Friday, 30 December 2011

Disappearing acts

Guilt? Relief? I'll just close my eyes...
THIS little bugger went missing.
For 22 hours.
Had us real worried, he popped out just before dinner yesterday...and disappeared into the cold, snowy Sapporo night.
We slept and left the front door open. Today I hunted the local streets with a photo of him, called his name outside garage doors and even dug snow out of the drain pipes where he finds rats.
I had plans for an out of city daytrip to a hotspring with a friend...knocked that on the head and did a few hours of city center lunch instead.
Came home and hunted some more. When I was in Australia he disappeared for 48 hours. But that was autumn. Sapporo now is minus temperatures with large mounds of snow everywhere and killer-chunks of ice sliding off the subway tunnel roof.

Worried and worried.
Yujiro in between ski lessons was mailing and calling...worried too.
Bloody cat.

And I looked out the window around 4 pm I saw a familiar skinny shape running down the street and in he ran, gulped a lot of water and food and looked a bit wide-eyed excited to be home....and we are none the wiser as to where he went.
Little bugger. But I love him.

And my other little bugger? Well, maybe shouldn't call Okaasan that exactly...although Lady Ga-Ga has her Little Monsters, us Brit's use "bugger" as a term of in "you daft old bugger"..

Anyway. Okaasan.
She didn't go out again today. Nice enough weather. But she didn't. This year she stays home much more.
Yujiro is staying at the ski school, so I cooked dinner for Okaasan and Me and had 45 mins. of the Korean-food-is-the-best-in-the-world-I-used-to-eat-in-a-Korean-restaurant-in-Ikebukuro-station conversation...oh I don't nine? times. Same story. Easy to respond to.

And I has a little, significant success with New Year food cooking and Okaasan. The picture above shows the miso soup on the right, with burdock root and Japanese raddish and tofu in it...and on the left are sato imo/taro.
Last year, on that nightmarish shopping trip and cooking marathon, Okaasan bought these and peeled them and boiled them, and made the stock from fish flakes and seaweed, and then simmered them in soy sauce/cooking sake, sweet sake and a sugar plantation.
This year I bought a bag of them ready peeled and part-boiled. I added ready-made stock, a wallop of soy sauce/sake...and half a sugar plantation.
THEN after dinner I asked Okaasan's advice about the taste of the sauce.....everything was all done, she only had to taste the thing and comment.

"Hmm...nice. No, that seems good! I like these at New Year!"
THAT SEEMS GOOD! To MY cooking! Something very Japanese! GOOD!
It's a milestone.

Only taken me 3 years.

So, that's obviously the secret - do as much of the shopping and preparation of food as I can in a magician stuffing rabbits up his sleeve before a show - and then give Okaasan a chance to input at one final stage.....something simple - well actually for a British woman something like the taste of traditional Japanese food is something pretty hard. But something Okaasan can fuss about for a few minutes and advise and correct on.

Last year was awful as she couldn't remember how much of anything she'd added to the pan and kept adding more of everything in a never-ending taste balancing act.
This year: I did a guesstimate on the taste, erred on the side of probably not enough, presented it to her..and Bingo!

Phew. 3 years to learn that lesson. :-))

Roll on another year. Oh, there's another coming along in 72 hours. Lucky me.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Oyomesan powertrip.

My old self came back today.
I did it all - and then some.

Got up at 7 am (well actually 3 am at first because I thought it was dawn already)....anyway...Yujiro was off before 7 am to ski teach, I was up and out the door by 8 am with my skis, walked to the subway station, took the subway to Makomonai and then the bus to the Moiwa Ski Area - this is Sapporo's real backyard ski area.
Full of grandparents in decades old brightly-colored ski wear and kids, all shouting instructions and screaming, various ski lessons for kids and ancient people skiing ever-so-slowly-and-carefully. I like Moiwa actually. The lifts are old and cranky, the views over the city great and it all feels local. There are animal tracks in the snow and it's where generations of Sapporo people have learned to ski.
I did 90 minutes of runs, getting more and more confident in my knee power and ability. Three years really of not skiing at the level I used to, so much to get back to. :-)

I finished about 10.30 and as I couldn't find a taxi and the bus driver told me he was returning to the bus parking area and couldn't take a passenger...I walked and dragged my ski bag and finally found a taxi down the hill and home.
Showered and changed for work, put together Okaasan's lunch and served it to her, then went to work for my last class of the year. Tidied up the classroom, took down all the Christmas decorations, put up a bit of Japanese stuff - it is dragon year and someone gave me dragon ornaments - and then...went to the gym!!!
Talk about Power! Only did 30 mins. But still. I feel SO GOOD that my body power is coming back to something like normal. So much of my early stress with Okaasan was because I was injured too and I couldn't get OUT of the house and get away to let off stream...she arrived...and 4 months later I injured my knee and couldn't even walk to the local supermarket.

Now? Ski/work/gym - all on the same day.

And then I took the subway home...and cleared 10 cm of snow from the parking area.

Maybe enough!

Bit of an incoming missile in the evening though: Yujiro got a call from the ski school making a probable booking for December 31, January 1, 2 and 3 at Kiroro...the big ski resort up in the mountains above Otaru. He COULD drive back and forth every day, but it would add a 3 hour drive onto the working he usually stays at the ski school lodge.

My heart sank. New Year's Eve alone with Okaasan. Three nights alone with Okaasan.


I don't mind HIM going, that's just the downside of sharing life with someone who needs to work when everyone else is on holiday...policemen/firemen/medical staff/shop staff...everyone does it...but...3 nights with Okaasan...and December 31 in Japan is a big deal....special food, symbolic stuff.

Not happy. We've chewed it over. Latest thought is that I'll go and get him after the New Year's Eve ski work and bring him home for all the special food etc with Okaasan - and then January 1st drive with him back to the ski area and ski myself that day. A few years ago he and I used to  escape the whole Japanese New Year Thing by going maybe I can do that.

And only have 2 nights with Okaasan.
Compromise maybe.
I've ordered up a box of special New Year food and it really needs three of us to eat the stuff.

Okaasan didn't go out again today so she didn't buy anything....the  fridge and its contents are still controllable.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Peeking through the dementia fog.

Dementia isn't 24/7.

At least not at Okaasan's stage.
Anybody meeting Okaasan for a short time wouldn't think anything is different: just a nice old lady who says various stock phrases about the weather/food/names/traditions...and maybe repeats them a bit.
Spend a bit of time and you realize the phrases are repeated a lot and nothing much "new" is offered into a conversation, instead slightly inappropriate giggles and endless checking actions.
Living with her: silences and emotional highs. Sometimes fluid responses to chat and almost-normal conversations. Sometimes hamster-wheels.

And sometimes: wonderful moments of clarity.

Last night Yujiro and I had our usual pre-dinner glass of wine and nibbles of cheese upstairs when he came back from work.
Then I made dinner (stir-fried squid and ginger/cabbage/rice, soup, pickles - really GETTING this J-food cooking now :-)).
Called everyone to the table around 7 pm.
Yujiro came with the last centimeter of red wine in his glasss. I'd already quaffed mine and refilled my glass with water so I could take my menopause and cartilage supplement pills.

We all sat down and said: "Itadekimasu" (Thanks for the food, let's eat) standard Japanese phrase before eating anything.

Okaasan looked across the table at our wine glasses....

"Excuse me, but can I have something to drink? You've got red wine! You've got sake!"

??????!!!!!! Loved it.
Yujiro explained that he was finishing off some wine, and I'd got water, not sake.....and Okaasan was ok with that excuse and busied herself making tea (which took ages with all the checking of water and cup and tea and water and cup and tea..).

But it was sweet. Complete clarity of mind and expression of need.:-)
This on a day when she'd needed reminding to have a bath, needed lunch setting out for her, and has a wet towel in a bowl sitting on the carpet of her room....amid the dementia life-fog complete clarity of thought and awareness of surroundings.

Okaasan loves a drink. A bit dangerously so in fact, because she can't remember HOW much she has drunk and tends to knock it back unguardedly. Over the New Year holidays must remember to bring some alcohol to the dinner table for her. :-))

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Slothing on...

THIS is how much chocolate I can contemplate eating over the Christmas holidays!

One friend helpfully gave me a gadget called a Choc-O-Meter, which helps you work out how much you have to move your body to be able to eat more chocolate....

Slothing continues. I have half-classes this week and so I have late starts and early finishes.

Yujiro and I have reversed our housewife modes: he goes out to work early and I take care of the shopping/cooking/cleaning/Okaasan duties.

Out the front door...needs a little clearing after another 20-30 cm!

Dad's dog statue.

I can't imagine living with Okaasan and NOT doing it as a double-act with Yujiro. That would be some horrendous blog to be sure. Imagine if he went off early to the office every day and left me - working or not - with his mother day after day after day...and all the stuff that has to be done????? OMG!!!

There was a feature on Japanese Tv this morning about Men-who-Help-in-the-House. There is even a trendy word for it: Ike-dan. So stupid. If you live in a home as an adult you should do the things to make daily life work, whether you are male or female.
Yujiro gets this concept - always has - and now living with Okaasan as a giant blob of do-nothingness in our is essential that he and I balance eachother out with the housewifeing.

Okaasan doesn't do much in the house. She washes dishes (sometimes) if we ask her to do it immediatley after eating. She washes a few underpants. We do everything else. I wonder how SHE feels about that? She can hear/see us in the kitchen but hardly ever offers to help or does anything herself. This is fine by me, because it's easier without her, but it is strange that she has just given up on all the house activties of life and just sits and sits and sits by the TV.

So this week, he has the car and I am at home - shoveling snow and shopping and cooking...and eating chocolate.

This morning was "How about a bath?" time for Okaasan. If we say nothing I think she would never have a bath. We get her to have a bath about once a week. So, I started the bath running and then told her about it...three times...and now she is in there. Then I'll make her lunch and set off for my afternoon class and the gym.

Japanese New Year is approaching. This year OF COURSE I am NOT going shopping or cooking with Okaasan - because I read my own blog and remember the horror of last year.

I've ordered special food and I made an easy traditional dish with a supermarket packet set. Okaasan has bought one bag of seaweed and fish - I noticed it in the fridge - but I am hoping she won't go and get any more...and then need helping to cook it.
There will be enough that she will feel it IS New Year, but there are shops and freezers to help us through the holidays....

Chichi and Popo discover cat treats from England in the Xmas presies.

Sunday, 25 December 2011


How much chocolate can the body take?

I'm testing that.
If I eat anymore i'll be so hyper-happy I'll be throwing balls of wrapping paper for the cats...and chaseing them myself.

Having two slothful days of Christmas.
The weather has been great and I've got Okaasan OUT twice now. She even listened to my advice and set out while the sun was shining. And came home safely.

I've been a bad Oyomesan by avoiding actually having lunch with her. Left her stuff in flasks yesterday and disappeared to the gym...and today I cooked and served her the food, but busied myself with oh-so-important-housework....bad I know, but my Christmas goodwill doesn't extend to sitting and making conversation for 45 mins.

Above are the mound of parcels that arrived in the past week for me from friends. Amazing really! Thankyou!

But it's a bit embarrassing, because none of them appeared to be for after he went off to work this morning I sat there with a cup of tea and the Tv and cats...and opened my presents in solitary happiness. Very strange really.
Fortunately ONE friend had included a present for Yujiro, and the cats - so with MINE for him and his for Me, it makes enough for us to do a second present opening this evening. present I opened this morning - which had sat in the warm living room for several days...err..was a chocolate cake! It was probably labeled as such on the box and I didn't's still ok....ymmmmyhh,,,:-)) Thankgoodness for food preservatives.

But I've had a nice quiet time. A lot of TV and staying home. Cleaning the house. Finishing the Japanese New Year cards which have to be posted by Dec. 25th to get a January 1st delivery....and walks in the the views over the city from my local park were lovely - all snowy and sunny. Happy feeling.

My working life is all people, people, people - for me to spend 3 days at home and in the neighborhood is...well...nice.
Last year I was full of a million emotions about Dad and Jane and loss of family. This year I am relaxingly slothful.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Christmas just sneaks right in.

How did THAT happen?

I had a good Christmas! Two days early.

Roast Chicken prepping  a la Jamie Oliver mode. Stuff a lemon in the bum.

Veggies a bit burned. Didn't baste enough.

BUT! GREAT taste!

December 23 is the Japanese Emperor's birthday - and a public holiday. This is handy for all the Japanese who want a day off work to celebrate a Christian festival with shopping and eating and drinking. I'm guessing that 99% of the Emperor's subjects don't know why it is a day off - but are very grateful anyway! I think there will be an out-pouring of grief when the Emperor dies and December 23 isn't a public holiday anymore...although maybe it will be renamed National Snail Day or something in honor of one of the Emperor's hobbies.

This year it was a Friday, so Christmas Eve (very important date/eating/shopping time in Japan) and then Christmas Day (not so important) are all over a long weekend.

Yujiro was away at 6 am skiing, so after I thawed out from cleaning 10 cm of snow off the car for him (years of training as a ski girlfriend, I know the way to his heart)...I spent the morning in my bathrobe, buried under cats...watching America's Next Top Model

Escaped Lunch with Okaasan by prepping the stuff for her in flasks on the kitchen table and walking off to have curry and read the newspaper at my fave Indian restaurant.
Came home with the intention of getting Okaasan to go walking herself, but had to wait until 2.30 pm when she woke up - then went into persuading overdrive that NO IT'S NOT ICY NOW and YOU CAN GO OUT SAFELY!
It HAS been dangerous for over 2 weeks now, so it us understandable that she can't switch gears easily. In her mind Snow=Dangerous, whereas in fact Ice=Dangerous, and Snow=Safe Walking.

Finally, at 3.30 pm as the snow started again...Okaasan got dressed and ready and went out for the first time in 6 days. And I could get into her room to take out the dirty laundry and clear the newspapers and trash and yukky stuff going mouldy by the heated carpet (I think it was a food packet from a week ago).
That nice wooden box for recycle newspaper my student made? Okaasan has already started draping under pants on it....there IS no hope.

And then. Christmas dinner.

We weren't sure about Yujiro's ski teaching schedule over the holiday - so decided to be like lots of other Japanese households and enjoy our Christmas dinner on December I'd impulse bought a whole chicken at the supermarket on my way to work 2 days ago...and so....after Internet surfing for help I settled on it'll-be-easy-darlin' British cook Jamie Oliver's Perfect Roast Chicken recipe.
And you know what? It worked! Delicious. Stuffing lemons inside a chicken makes a big difference.
Great! Thanks be to Jamie. British panicky cooks turn for help to the 3 Kitchen Gods: Delia Smith, Jamie Oliver or Keith Floyd. This year Jamie came thru for me big time :-))

Yujiro got home at 6 pm with the excellent news that he'll be ski teaching close to the city for the next 4 days and thus home every night. And he brought cheap sparkling wine.
Okaasan got home about 6.30 pm, safely proving to herself that outside IS safe to walk alone...I hope she gets OUT there now and starts exercising.

And I finally admitted defeat in my week-long hunt for my parents' Christmas tablecloth, that I brought from the UK a year ago with nostaligic plans to use here in Japan. I have no idea where I put it! (it will emerge in time for summer I am sure...). Settled instead for another tablecloth from the UK, plus my step-mum's rose tablemats...all somehow joining Christmas dinners at dad's house over the years with now and here in Sapporo, Japan and Christmas dinner with my now family - Yujiro and Okaasan. 
For better, for worse, richer and poorer, in sickness and in health - they ARE my family now....

At 7 pm the three of us sat down to the chicken feast and LOVED it.

Okaasan even asked for toast to help mop up the gravy!!! (maybe cos I'd actually added a spoon of soy sauce to the gravy to make it Japanesey for her....?).

And just as we were finishing....the doorbell rang and a poor junior staff member of the Suzuki garage was there with a small box of chocolates, yet more sparkling wine and a 2012 calender - ALL in the hope that we WILL buy a new car from his company in 2012. This is so Japanese...can't imagine a garage in England sending staff round with chocs and wine to soften you up to buy a car from them!!! 
I'd better go to a Toyota and a Mazda garage and express car-buying thoughts...

After that, fell into the armchair and ate alcohol-infused chocolates (Thanks Takako in Shin-Sapporo!).

And that my friends...was a very, happy December 23 Christmas! the living room there are all sorts of boxes awaiting me that the postman and delivery people have brought this week....I am saving those for tomorrow.
So I'll just have ANOTHER Christmas on Dec. 25th. :-))
Maybe I'll find the tablecloth in time for that.

* And....that donating year-end-party monies to a Tohoku volunteer group idea - the first lot of students said they were happy to do it and the volunteer group said a surprised "thankyou" via Facebook...and so I hope some of my Christmas cheer is seeping southwards to earthquake/tsunami-hit areas.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Pre-Christmas guilt trip.

Feeling guilty about Okaasan cooped up inside for days. She hasn't been out since it's Thursday.
Guess this means I'll be taking her somewhere over my holiday weekend.

The ice in Sapporo has been awful. We haven't had fresh snow for over a week, and the car tires just polish every surface they touch.

The result is this:
This photo was taken by a friend in Sapporo (and I've stolen it from her Facebook page), but it's an excellent example of almost all the roads here this week!

Of course, Okaasan can't go out onto these kind of streets. So she stays there, in her room - watching TV, sleeping, walking to the toilet, walking to the kitchen table for lunch and dinner, sleeping more, TV......

Does she feel bored? Or is she protected by the dementia in this situation? She knows she hasn't been out today maybe...and maybe for a day or two...does she actually realize it is 5 days?
I know this is like the question: Do goldfish get bored in their bowls?

I've been out working and doing all the Christmas rah-rah parties and classes, he has been out doing ski teacher training, even the cats have ventured out for a run in the snow under the subway line...but Okaasan.....sits and sits...and sits some more.

I saw a Day Care Center bus in our street, picking up customers to take them off for sing-alongs/ball-catching/blood-pressure checks etc and I wished that Okaasan was in that system. I wished that Yujiro cared enough about it all to GET her into that system.
But he doesn't care really - as long as she is there in the house day to day he thinks she is ok - and she is probably too proud to agree to join a Day Care system...."that's for old people who can't do anything"...I can almost hear her saying....and so...she sits, and sits in her room with the TV.
I hope when I am an old person I am not too proud that I won't take the chance to surround myself with people and chat and activity.

Going somewhere with other people and having conversations and activity would be good for Okaasan. She isn't an incapable person, she is still healthy enough to go walking on her own etc - but this icy weather just traps her inside.
We live in Sapporo because we love it. Okaasan lives here because her son is here. But it isn't a good place for her.

Two hours ago it started snowing here and the 3-day forecast is blizzard, which will cover up all the ice finally. Okaasan won't go out in the blizzard either, and he is using the car to get to the ski I guess
I will be taking Okaasan out in a taxi to give her a change of scene.....

It will be my Christmas good person duty.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Christmas in Japan for Teachers

So this is Christmas....
In Japan, for an English teacher.

Christmas week, you try to do slightly different classes - with adults and for kids. I have adults, and every year there are in-class "parties", which usually means students (the women in the class) bring cookies and snacks and drinks. The desks get moved a bit, I try to put on background Xmas music, I might wear a Santa hat or a bit of tinsel...and I try to think up some kind of quiz/game/activity which is fun and festive.
It is nice, in a slightly formal, polite kind of way - without alcohol Japanese adults don't really relax easily and people tend to sit quietly and wait to see what happens next. It's not a rip-roaring laugh fest.

The cake takes center stage at in in-class party.

The game part is VERY hit-or-miss, yesterday I tried an information matching card game based on the text we've used this year...but in my hurry to get it ready I didn't check the printer...and it cut some of the essential information OFF the cards.....leaving students even more bewildered that usual. Had to go into super-energetic, reassuring Teacher Mode to paper over the cracks in THAT mistake. very luckily, Japanese people are polite about things-not-going-as-planned and everyone assured me they had enjoyed the class....not so sure about that, but I accepted the warm feelings and wrapped myself up to set off for the NEXT party-in-class one hour later at a different place.

(Almost as non-succesful as the Halloween Theme class I tried to do with a colleague years ago, where we prepped Apple Bobbing, and NONE of the kids wanted to go anywhere near a bowl of water and put their faces in it...we did it a few times to demonstrate how fun it was...and they stood and looked at us with puzzled eyes!!!
Or...the Pass the Parcel I tried once, with questions in English taped inside every layer. students, being polite Japanese, ever-so-carefully unwrapped each wrapping and the whole crazy, fun, frenzy of this mysterious foreign game was lost).

But yesterday, the English Christmas cake was a success...although not cooked in the center.....again.....must add heat/time to future cakes.

Some classes actually organise a meal out - a lunch or a dinner, plus karaoke. The teacher usually doesn't pay. There is drinking and merry-making.
Bonenkai are Japanese end-of-year parties, and while of course working people are obliged to do it with all their colleagues and bosses, non-working people do it too - with all the "groups" in their life, and of course with friends.
So the Swimming Club, the Cooking Class, the old-P.T.A. friends, the Residents' Association, the English class, the Volleyball Team at the Community Center - ALL will probably organise a Bonenkai.

This year I've already had a Bonenkai lunch (very nice tofu, traditional restaurant, private room, slightly formal), several in-class snacks and game parties and last night a pub/restaurant with food and beer and then karaoke private room. Got another pub/restaurant and karaoke tonight too.

And....this year I am go encourage students to help me donate money to a volunteer group in Tohoku. A group that is helping people put their lives back together after the March 11 disasters. 

After all the eating/drinking parties I am giving each student a letter to take home. Inside is a Y1,000 bill (the money they paid for MY dinner and drink), and the details of the NPO's bank account, with a request that they send the money to the NPO on my behalf...and maybe add some more of their own money.
I feel guilty that all this money is being spent here - I know the Hokkaido economy needs the business - and this is the way I thought of pausing a moment during all the over-indulgence, and thinking of people still clearing up and trying to live after an earthquake/tsunami etc.
But I don't know how students will react. Will they think it is strange? Or even worse, rude of me to return their money? I hope they get the idea...

Anyway, this is all Chritsmas for English teachers in Japan. I've been doing variations of all of this now for 17 years, and the games and the snacks and the food and the karaoke vary a bit - but not so much.

It's exhausting, to be honest.
By the time Christmas actually comes I 'm a bit done with it all.
Happy to just sit and open a few presents from friends and watch TV.

Yujiro starts his ski teaching season today and so we don't really know which nights he is home for dinner. Yesterday he and I went to COSTCO but, apart from cheese and snacks, didn't actually buy any delicious Christmas dinner for ourselves because we just don't know when he is home. Okaasan will be happy with whatever I serve...a bit of supermarket chicken and a potato or two, with a bit of tinsel in the table to indicate that this is a Christmas dinner.

I'm ok with that. Last year I desperately needed a Party. And friends came out with me for cocktails and dinner etc. After two terrible years, I needed a party.
This year I will just eat my bousine cheese and crackers, finish off the mulled wine and relax.

Anyway....time to get going on the day....and get up the energy for another Bonenkai tonight. 

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

The cake...

Heading off for a class party with the BBC Good Food website's "Simmer and Stir Christmas Cake" had better be good...otherwise I can never show my face again.
Got two End-of-Year parties in 48 hours.....tough schedule.:-)

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Tis the season to be merry!!!!!

I DID it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


I am SO pleased and smug and over-joyed with myself. I am wonderful.

Skied today and did the '72 Sapporo Olympic Women's Giant Slalom course (easy side) at Teine Highland.


Got Okaasan to help me load about 40 pairs of smelly underpants into a general laundry basket and come with me to the washing machine and put them in it.


I think I need a celebration. Oh, I have it. I'm drinking coffee with cooking brandy. At 3 pm. 

The skiing makes me SO happy. I feel glimmers of my former life returning. We went up to Teine Highland, a big ski area up above Sapporo city and did a few easy courses slowly. Then got to the bottom and thought: can do more, my knee is ok. Went up to the top and came down the big main course. This.

SUCH a great feeling. We came down the easy side, turning, turning slowly...but I felt connected to the ski area again...not piddling around on the family course as I did last year. And the knee felt fine. :=) I so, so miss getting out and away from the house and city to DO this. Two years of injury and the year before that we didn't ski much because Yuiro was recovering and Okaasan had just arrived.

AND. Okaasan's underpants. Which will shortly be launching their own blog. And book tour.

I came home all elated from the skiing and seized the day - or the moment - or in this case, the underpants.

Marched cheerfully into Okaasan's room with my laundry basket half-filled.
"Okaasan! Have you got any laundry for the machine?".
There was fumbling around and stalling, and excuses - I do it on a sunny day (yeah right), I prefer to do it by hand (yeah right)...there isn't much to do (yeah right)...I don't do laundry when there is an "R" in the month (maybe true...)...but I followed her into the Japanese-style room where she has two laundry baskets and stood over her - well hopefully beside her encouragingly - while she peered into the smelly depths and started picking out pants after pants and putting them into my basket....yippeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
"It's hard to do all that laundry by hand isn't it? The machine is easy! Let me help you! In Hokkaido in winter it's hard isn't it! etc etc"
Then swept away to the laundry machine, with Okaasan trotting behind, and showed her how to put the powder in and switch it on.
Victory! A deep and satisfying victory.
Until now I've basically been too nervous of her reaction to do this. Too afraid of all the excuses. Easier to take the sneak-in-and-grab-it-in-her-absence route.

But. Time has come. I remember an old student of mine, whose mother suffers from dementia. He said that his wife was able to get his mother to do much more than he. "I think she's a little scared of my wife, because she has that hospital professional air about her - even though she's a dietician and not a geriatric nurse". He thought that his wife, as not direct family and with a no-nonsense approach got the old lady to do more in the area of personal hygiene etc.

I've always thought that if I get up enough confidence with Okaasan and vault over the language barrier, I can maybe get her to do things. Just sweep her along with it all.
And today I did it. Maybe by tonight she'll be giving me the scary treatment at dinner. But for now.....VICTORY!
About half the underpants from this week.....

And yesterday: we did another Very Boring Family Outing to a shopping mall. Walked about aimlessly, had a silent lunch ( we are one of those families you see eating out together and not talking) and then a bit more wandering for exercise...and then home. can see I am on a high here. Better cut back on the brandy....yesterday I made a traditional English Christmas cake stuffed full of fruits and brandy....from a not-so-traditional recipe off the BBC....I THINK it's turned out ok. This is actually for a class on Tuesday, for the class party, but the extra bits I cooked for us taste maybe I can recommend this easy Christmas cake recipe!

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Shopping assistant.

Takes a man to go hat shopping with a woman.
Takes a saint to go hat shopping with Okaasan.
On 2 days in a row.

Me? I'm neither a man nor a saint. I was away working happily, getting my diary packed with year-end-parties by generous's gonna be a tough eating time in the next 10 days.

Yujiro? Home alone with Okaasan and waiting for the ski season bookings so he can start work.
So he took Okaasan hat shopping. Brave guy.
Her old hat was somehow broken and with December temperatures free-falling into the minus range - daytime HIGHS! - we thought it was absolutely time to get her head covered.

First day he took her to the local SEIYU, a supermarket come cheapish store locally. They looked, and looked. No suitable hats. All to "young", according to Okaasan.

So, the next day he took her downtown to the big Daimaru department store...where she finally selected a hat costing..wait for it...Y13,000 or $160!!!! For a hat. I think it may also have a global positioning system fitted and make tea. It can't be $160 just for a piece of material to cover the head...can it?

Shopping with Okaasan isn't easy. She is a very picky shopper and of course the short-term memory loss means that she can't remember a decision she's made...she walks around looking at stuff and then goes back to the same item and makes the same decision. It's torture actually.
We could just give her the money and hope she goes and buys it on her own...but...but...the money might get spent on something else and she isn't going out on her own much yet in the winter conditions.

But he did it. A man and a saint. He stood by and helped.
I hate shopping. Going anywhere near a department store in the pre-Christmas madness for sure.
Thankgoodness he is a good, loving son. I am so very lucky! :-)

AND...we got a way to try and keep some carpet space free in Okaasan's room.
One of my students made a recycle newspaper storing box out of wood, and gave it to me yesterday. We opened it just before dinner time and decided it would be great for Okaasan's room - in fact she instantly collected all the old papers and put them neatly in the box. Excellent.
I use an old supermarket box upstairs for my English papers, but at least I can remember to use it. Okaasan usually has about 6 or 7 newspapers open at the same time and scattered around on the carpet and table - now she has a nice box to PUT them in...who knows...she may even use it. Japanese sister just emailed me: the apartment owner says "ok" to her renting the place down the road from me. She and husband and family will be arriving here in January!!!!!! 

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Family ice dance.

Sapporo still covered with ice - and not enough snow to make it safe.
We took Okaasan out yesterday for another family-walk-and-lunch to stop her taking root by the TV.
It was actually a beautiful sunny day and we walked from the house, just down the road to the local subway station area for a bowl of ramen. Okaasan used the walking stick I gave her and with our help managed to do it all without breaking anything.
I think it's good to just walk locally, to remind her that she CAN do this in winter.
She enjoys walking with us. It is a simple thing to do. She is quite passive on these occasions. We dropped in to the supermarket so he and I could use the ATMs, Okaasan sat on a bench and waited and glancing back I saw her just sitting there staring at the supermarket shelves with a kind of vacant-look.

Last week was actually the THIRD anniversary of her coming to live with us. It slipped by and I forgot.
She's doing ok. Everything a little less than before. Less laundry-doing, less walking, less shopping.
I can't imagine her living alone. I think living here gives her a routine life that she just follows from day to day, without worries of food or money or decisions.
When she first came here I thought her condition was going downhill sharply, now I think she is just coasting along until something...something happens. It could be a fall or an outburst of anger.

No backlash about me delivering laundry to her room - so I am going to leave it a week and then  go in with a big laundry basket and say: "Do you have anything to put in the machine?". Okaasan uses the machine to spin dry a few pants...but I think anything else is beyond her.

Quiet weekend really....

Yesterday I went to a wake following the death of a friend's father. She is living in England and couldn't get back for the wake or funeral, so I kind of went on her behalf. I think I only met her father once or twice, but in Japan people with small connections to the deceased go to funerals.
I missed the actual ceremony, because she'd given me the wrong address for the funeral hall, but I arrived to find the family in a side room enjoying food and beer - with the open coffin to one side behind an altar-like arrangement with a photo of her father and candles. So I sat and chatted for a while. Japanese wakes are nice like this, the family get together and have a meal and the coffin is just there for anyone to look at. I didn't actually look though...after sitting with my own father's body for an hour in the funeral parlour I didn't think I needed to see another body...didn't want to risk what memories that might bring back?

And today? We went skiing!! Well, him and me.....first, very, very gentle ski with our bad knees. 
I did ok, my leg felt MUCH stronger than last year - he felt some pain. I think I might be able to do more skiing this year, which will be wonderful.
And we came home via my fave Indian restaurant and had a huge plate of tandorri stuff.....

And I did some more Christmas cards.

And played with cats. Risked putting up some decorations.

That was it.

Kind of boring blog really. Sorry about that.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

A historic laundry day.

Reached another stage with the laundry.
(Can't believe this topic obsesses me....)

Last night I put all Okaasan's pants (about 20 pairs) and some pajamas in a neat pile and walked into her room and gave them to her.
"Here you are Okaasan! Your laundry! It was drying upstairs. It's hard to wash all of this by hand isn't it!"

Triggered off a volley of "thankyous" from her...and I smiled and left. She sorted through the pants a bit and later took them in her laundry hoarding room. Probably put them straight back in one of the two baskets she uses for dirty stuff...

It IS time. Now with winter and Okaasan not going out for days on end - waiting for a chance to sneak in and remove/return laundry is hard. I've been keeping it at the top of the stairs...and when I hear her going to the toilet I grab some and rush down and throw it onto her sofa with all the other jumbled up clothes.

But. Time to "man up" to this situation and be more direct.
Yes, I come into your room. Yes, I wash some of your laundry. It's hard for you to do all of it. I am helping you.
Not that we had this conversation this time, she didn't debate the point of WHY I had her laundry...this time. But if she does, I'm gonna be as direct as possible. Helping you. We are helping you. I am sure she knows we come into her room and remove laundry, and on some level accepts it. I am hoping! :-)

If we get past this point of US doing her laundry we can maybe progress to going into her room with a laundry basket and asking her to put stuff in it once a week. That would be great. An end to the laundry sneaking.

And in other news...

It is almost certain that one of my Japanese-sisters IS moving to live about 10 minutes away from here in January, with her husband and new baby. They have checked out an apartment near the local station here and are talking a mid-January move.
I'm SO SO delighted. For me of course! I will have a close friend right here nearby. I will get to see her regularly in her new role as mum. I can vent to her about Okaasan...and as she has public health nursing experience...get a semi-professional opinion about Okaasan....
But beyond all that I am looking forward to ambles in the park with the pram...exploring my city with her (and pram)....and spending much more time with one of my favorite Japanese ladies. Years ago we shared an apartment in Saitama....years ago when we were single and carefree.... other news...I treated myself to Christmas of my neighbours has some and I liked was bloody freezing work to put them up...and the supports of old ski poles etc don't look so pretty in daylight...but at night....ahhhhhhhhh!!!!

Monday, 5 December 2011

Fading stories.

Dementia books often describe the memory loss as a row of dominoes - the most recent are already collapsed, those a bit further back are leaning....and the childhood memory blocks are still standing.
But sometimes, even those further back are flat and need to be propped up.

We know Okaasan's stories better than she and last night had to help her pick up the fallen domino.

A year ago or more, ANYTIME the words "wartime"or "school" or "Korea" were in the conversation, Okaasan would launch into her story about the schoolfriend who had a strange name, and the day after war ended she didn't come back to school - so Okaasan realized that maybe she was Korean and had gone back to Korea etc.

We knew the story by heart. She told it so many times.

Last night's dinner was kimuchee nabe, kind of cook-on-the-table-hot-pot with Korean-spicy-cabbage - so of course "Korea" and "Korean people" was the dinner topic.
Okaasan started well - she actually introduced the story that when she was a child Koreans did the dirty jobs like collecting the rags and people looked down on them, and how sad that was etc.
There were many Koreans living in Japan.

"Ah yes, your friend at school was Korean wasn't she?" I prompted.

"My friend? School? I forget...."

"Yes, your friend her name was Tamako or something, wasn't it....when the war ended she didn't come back to school."

"Tamako? School?".
Yujiro joined in with a few prompts.
But nothing. Okaasan had no memory of this favorite old story. It was bizarre.

After several minutes of us retelling HER story, she began to join in and finally was telling it again...sort of...not using the words she used to have for the story...more using the words we'd just used...but kind of propping up the memory domino.

Afterwards I thought - that story hasn't featured at all in the past year. At one time it appeared several times a week in connection with "wartime" and "school" or "Korea". Now it's almost gone.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Family walking.

Four days stuck at home - Sapporo got the first real ice and snow of the winter and Okaasan couldn't get out.

Finally yesterday we took her out for a walk and lunch.
Helped her decide which clothes she should wear and then we set off by car and then subway to a city center station. Funny now how I am getting used to doing these things for Okaasan, standing in her room while she frets around about clothes and bags and gloves - trying to advice her. Progress  I guess.

Walked through all the underground passageways and shopping areas with her - probably 1.5 km. A good walk. Along the way we saw free art installations and an interesting photo exhibition about the Sapporo Winter Olympics 40 years ago.
Then lunch at a department store - where we found a trick art painting on the floor....

Friday, 2 December 2011

Communication Malfunction.

Japanese and English are swirling around in this house - not sure if that is good or bad for Okaasan. 
I thought I noticed recently that she was looking very confused by my bad Japanese, and made a mental note that I really MUST communicate to her more clearly. I've read that dementia sufferers gradually lose the ability to understand - at first complex or long sentences, and bit by bit...simpler stuff. Listening to a foreigner's Japanese with all its odd grammer and word choice may be tough for Okaasan.

But yesterday's story shows that sometimes she is having problems with Japanese!

I was out working and collecting dry cleaning. So this is a second-hand story.

Yujiro had lunch with Okaasan.
They discussed whether the roads were ok to walk on, or whether she should stay home yet again.
"I think it's too icy still, sometimes we take you to a shopping center to walk, but maybe tomorrow is better to go out" he told her.

After lunch he was back upstairs...probably playing chess on his smartphone.

30 minutes later Okaasan called from downstairs: "Yujiro! Yujiro! I'm ready! What time are we leaving?".

He found her dressed and ready to go. To a shopping center for a walk. :-)

She'd heard "shopping center for a walk", but maybe her brain had latched onto that nice idea and the "sometimes" part was lost....poor Okaasan! Of course he couldn't do anything about it because I had the poor Okaasan had to sit back down again in front of the TV.

The dementia books warn against information overload.
Don't say: I'm just popping out now to the supermarket to get some cheese, because tonight I think I might make that nice pasta sauce and it would be nice to have cheese on top.
Say: I'm going to the supermarket.I will be back soon.

* Toilet accident. In the spirit of fairness on this blog, because afterall I do talk about all sorts of embarrassing "toilet accidents" that Okaasan has. shall I put advice from this morning's'T mix two cups of coffee with a bowl of branflakes for breakfast. Bad idea. very. Do middle-aged woman lose bowel control? Oh gawd....I think I may need diapers.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Laundry basket case

The hours we spent thinking about Okaasan's laundry....

Yujiro realized in the last few days that the reason Okaasan has asked him for money a lot recently is that she had three dry cleaning receipts (furthest back was for August) he gave her money, she bought other stuff, and then she rediscovered the receipts and asked for money again....each time she'd forget that he money was for the dry cleaning.

So we took the receipts and I went today to pick up the missing cleaning.
And - managed to get Okaasan to give up that grimy sweater she wears all the time - I spirited it away for cleaning with just a little prompting.

No wonder she wears the same thing - I picked up 5 T-shirts/little sweaters at the shop.

And getting the laundry going in the opposite direction: Yujiro sneaked into Okaasan's store room to return washed clothes to the jumble of stuff on the bed. 
I'm too nervous to do it when she is there next door watching TV...but with all the snow and ice I fear she won't go out for days - so he ever-so-carefully slid open the door from the hallway and sneaked the clothes back onto her bed. She was next door watching TV and never heard him. I doubt she notices that there are suddenly clean pants and pajamas on the bed among all the stuff.

Crazy isn't it! I think the time is a-coming when we should just be more up-front about doing her laundry. March in with a clothes basket and get her to put stuff in it, "it helps you to do it in the machine, instead of by hand doesn't it!" etc - but I'm not quite brave enough to try it.....yet.

And so it goes. Very icy in Sapporo right now, I don't think Okaasan should/will go out walking in this.

I've noticed in the past few days she is looking at the newspaper flyer about dance classes at the culture school....I wonder if she'd like to go?

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Memory and Emotion

Orchid is a new reader to this blog and she posted a comment on the last posting, it was so interesting I thought I'd move part of her comment up here into the main section so it doesn't get missed!

Here is what she wrote:

First, Okaasan can't remember so many things, yet she remembers if the piles of laundry and garbage in her room are moved/altered. How is it that something so unremarkable can be remembered and she becomes angry? Surely the composition and height of the piles is something even people who don't suffer from dementia would not remember well. Also, she has been angry with you for long spans of time for cleaning her room, but how is it that she remembers what she is angry about for such a long period of time? Why does she remember her paranoid beliefs that you stole a magazine when she can't keep many other memories at hand for a minute?

Is dementia highly selective in this way? Is she storing new memories with an emotional component (those that make her angry or anxious) differently than those which have a neutral component? If so, can that be used to make sure she remembers things of importance which are positive?

I've studied neurobiology a tiny bit, and I know that memories are stored such that both the details and the emotions are locked in together. It is impossible for one to be elicited without the other, and ironically, when a memory is jogged by external stimuli, sometimes the details of the memory are not brought forth but the feeling is. This is why people have anxiety and don't know why in certain situations. The emotion stored with the memory of a similar experience comes out, but the memory itself doesn't make it. I don't know if this relates to dementia, but if your reading has revealed any answers about this selective memory situation, I'd be very curious to know.

My thoughts....

1. I think she remembers what is important to her - and the "you stole my magazine" 2 years ago was a good example of that. Magazines are important to her. She makes special trips to the shops to buy the latest, she sits and looks at them in detail and copies down recipes from them. That time I probably removed a recently bought I am much more careful and I take out magazines from the BOTTOM of the piles....!

I don't think she notices the changes in piles of clothes/newspapers/trash around her room - but if she can't find a particular item of clothing WHEN she is looking for it - then maybe the knowledge that we go into her room when she isn't there comes crashing to the fore.

She appears to remember the real angry times for about 5 days - or at least the emotion continues for about 5 days...and then it is gone again.

I reckon she DOES know we go in and remove clothes for washing and take out trash - but she accepts it basically.

2. Positive or Negative emotions, are they stored differently? I don't know! But I think the positive are easier to retrieve if SHE is basically happy in her days.
So every single time we eat okonomiyaki (savory pancake) it brings to life her happy memories of eating it after school as a child. I guess we ALL bury negative memories...

3. I think dementia sufferers do have selective memory - and for carers it can be disconcerting - you are never quite sure if she has remembered or not.
I've even seen her lose the memory of one of her own favorite stories...she is telling it as usual, and then the next piece of information isn't there. The following day - same story and the missing bit reappears! Once or twice I've supplied the forgotten details - but that confuses her because of course there is no reason why I should know HER story (except I've heard it a million times already).

It's all very strange....and interesting...funny...and frustrating....

Fear of the guilty.

Sorry. Been busy. TRYING to get Xmas presents and cards done and sent this year, before the post office has to charge me special prices for a personal jet to deliver each and every single one.

Almost done. Spent some sweaty hours in the shops at the weekend remembering why I hate shopping so much, came home and wrapped it all with the help of cats, and then surprised a rural post office yesterday by telling them there are places - oh wow! - outside Japan to send stuff the counter lady, the manager and their trusty manual to process that transaction...

All quiet at home.
Almost too quiet.
I managed to sneak out laundry from Okaasan's room: the usual 30-40 pairs of urine soaked and smelly pants, some wooly tights, some pajamas, a blouse and a little summer sweater.
Recently at dinner she turned up the cuffs of the sweater and I almost gagged - inside was a murky area of grey/black dirt. Gross. She hasn't washed this for ages...a year maybe? 
She used to wash some clothes, occasionally, or take them to the dry cleaners - HAD to be the cleaning shop way across town near the old apartment.

But recently? I think she hasn't done much laundry this summer. Occasionally a few pants.

It doesn't matter so much. She spends all day in her pajamas and a sweater. She only gets dressed to go out. Doesn't meet anyone anymore. It doesn't matter really if she is a smelly old lady for shop staff and subway passangers.

But...I feel I should try to do some clothes washing. Of course...this is hard ...if I suggest it to her she'll say: "no, no leave it - I'll do it myself later"...and then forget for another 6 months.
Hence: Sneaking Laundry.

But, Sunday night as Yujiro was making dinner, Okaasan shuffled across the kitchen to get a cup of water wearing The Mask. That strange, blank look that she gets. 
Don't want any dinner.


Had she found the missing clothes? Or rather, not found them?
I was in a tizz....had I over-sneaked clothes from her room and now she was angry with me...had I tipped her over into a dark mood?
After our dinner we talked about it safely upstairs. He thought maybe she'd had a toilet accident and was blue, but couldn't tell us. Or had eaten too many snacks by the TV all day and just wasn't hungry.
I wasn't so sure. Nervous that we were heading into scary Okaasan time, with accusations and finger pointing and paranoia. 
Except, it isn't paranoia is it when people ARE coming into your room and sneaking out your clothes!

I wondered how I could shift the laundry-doing  into another mode. Ideally we'd go and offer to do some laundry for her about once a week and take the stuff with her blessing...but I really don't think she will let us do that...yet.
Okaasan is still too aware of herself, thinks she is in control to allow us to "help" is a hard topic - how do you "help"/"encourage" the life of someone who thinks they don't need you?
I'm sure she thinks she does laundry - but the boxes of smelly underpants in her room and the soiled, greasy sweaters tell a different story.

But. By Monday morning. The black mood had passed. The Mask was replaced by a polite, smiling Okaasan again. I continued drying laundry upstairs in our apartment and while Okaasan was out yesterday Yujiro managed to put it all back in her room - spreading the clean stuff around on the bed and sofa and floor so she thinks it was always there.

I feel deceitful doing laundry this way...but I can't see an alternative yet.