Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Done it - for another year :-)


There we are - another year of cooking New Year's Eve dinner for a Japanese old lady.
Noodles, soup, bits of greenery and out of sight some fish and veggies deep fried in a wedge of batter.


Any good? I have no idea. Seemed ok. If you like that kind of thing. Okaasan didn't think I added enough soup....I never know how much is "enough".

But she ate it and I laid the table with a special cloth and set out some old seasonal decorations.
Offered her plum wine...but no, that's too sweet with food.
Offered her the sake I bought...but no, THAT'S sake to offer the gods tomorrow. So won't drink that now. Not until January 7th...
So we both drank water with our noodles.

And I came upstairs afterwards to mix the plum wine with the rest of the Belgian chocolates. :-)

Fairly good day as end of year.

I made the simmered vegetables dish in the morning and called Okaasan into the kitchen at the last moment to tell me if the taste was "enough". She told me endlessly that I'd made too much sauce...and should have cooked all the veggies one by one.
After 5 mins of being told that  I got her back into her room to continue watching TV.

I also got her to arrange the flowers I bought yesterday....



Glorious weather. I left Okaasan lunch on the table and spent a few hours in the sunshine with Cute Baby and his mum - trying to encourage him that people sitting on a plastic sheet and slipping down a slope was actually fun.
Took ages to filter thru his overly-cautious two year old brain that it might...MIGHT...just be kind of fun.
Finally he got it and we ran up and down at the play area on the town ski area.
Have to work off my double-layer Belgian chocolate box somehow.

Did some shopping with CB and his mum.
Then home to take Okaasan out to the supermarket - with Y2,000 in her purse.
I left her there 45 mins and then picked her up in the car.
She'd bought: a small box of the simmered veggie dish I'd made in the morning...New Year sweets, a BIG door decoration, candies, instant soups, nut snacks, yogurt.


And so.
End of year.

2013. What on earth happened in it?

Okaasan went to day care twice a week. That's great.
She had a lot of teeth problems.
And incontinence got worse.
She did less and less laundry and cleaning and personal care.
Then awful leg problems and almost stopped walking
And finally - somewhat amazingly - recovered.
But her walking is much less, much slower now.
She doesn't go out so much alone. And doesn't go far.

Mentally she is mainly ok - but it doesn't take much to knock her off course and then the loopy stuff is just under the surface.

and all of you! Thank YOU for reading this blog and comments and support. Never thought I'd still be writing this a few years on...

Of course, I am am getting the whole hang of being an Oyomesan more and more. The cooking, the houseworking, the balancing of freedom with domestic duties.
Dear Son and I continue to be a good team. Mainly.

Oh, enough already. 
What we all need now is a cat picture....and I need to go back in the living room to the TV. Top up the plum wine glass and reach for another chocolate.

See you in 2014. :-)




Let the New Year cooking BEGIN!

...or at least - The Opening of Bags Containing Pre-Cooked Stuff.

Japanese New Year food haul from the supermarket.
So, December 31st 2013 and I am up early like a good Japanese housewife to wipe my seaweed with a damp cloth and get my thoughts in order for the New Year cooking frenzy.

Yesterday I hit the supermarket at lunchtime. Alone. Left Okaasan sleeping under newspapers which STILL confusingly say it is only December.

Why don't I take her shopping with me at this festive time? Wouldn't it be kinder and fun and a nice bonding experience?
No way. 
I tried that two or three years ago. It was stressy hell, for both of us.
Okaasan shops like a 50s Super Housewife. She picks up every thing and closely examines it for flaws. Puts it down. Picks it up again. Walks 5 meters and comes back to the same thing. On and on. Buys random stuff that might combine into a traditional dish, but then again - might not.

I did give her money and time downtown, and the offer of supermarket the other day. She came back with nothing. Sits and endlessly sifts thru the supermarket flyers at home - but actually  doesn't seem too interested in actually going and buying stuff.
So I did it yesterday with a list and a quietish supermarket.

All ready. Bought the whole lot this year.

I will only be making a stock from seaweed and dried fish flakes, with lashings of sugar and cooking sake, plus soy sauce - and opening up my bag of pre-cooked and cut ingredients.
Same for the rest - all packaged.

I have truely become a Japanese housewife...of the 21st century....go to the supermarket and buy it all.

And. This. For Okaasan. A little New Year cheer...a small, small bottle of sake.


I've started prepping her for the fact that she is going to welcome in 2014 a deux with me. That Dear Son is "having to work because he is such a popular ski instructor with rich Chinese people"...and I will tell him to telephone her tonight and do seasonal greetings and chat. He is away at the ski resort with lots of rich Asians, fireworks and feasts. Won't be home till Jan. 4th.

O-shogatsu. Bring it on :-)
I'm a Super Japanese Housewife of the 21st century.


Monday, 30 December 2013

Home for the holidays

So - it's snowing.
And snowing some more.
Oh...and more.

Winter holidays in Sapporo, north Japan.

But - this year I got a car AND a snow blower!
Makes  a big difference.
I can get out to ski and shop :-9 Easily.


Okaasan is ok - a little strange, but seemingly ok. She enjoys the mealtime chats I give her and the softcare.
Softcare is my term for the little things I try to do for her to brighten a day. Give her a cup of coffee, show her a funny xmas card, give her some season flowers to arrange .....anything to break her monotonous days in front of the TV.
Of course - she isn't really conscious of it BEING monotonous, but at some level I am sure she knows it's a nothing-time. There are no day care trips until January 7th - until then I am this old lady's only source of fun and interest.
God help her!

I can entertain cats who are stuck indoors with bits of plastic,  crackly plastic bags, dangly toys and balls of paper.
Okaasan too needs little bits of softcare.

And keeping in the right time/year.

Lunchtime yesterday I mentioned end-of-year-shopping and crowds.
"End of year? no! That's finished! It's January 5th now! End of year was a week ago...."
"Um no....end of year is Tuesday next week....it's December 29th today!"
"December? No! It's January 5th!!"
And she gets up from the lunch table and goes to her room to search for a newspaper with a January date to show me - shows me her table calender opened on January 5th and gets very stressy.
All very odd. WHY does she think it is January?
Is it a date on one of the many supermarket flyers that litter her room? Why has she turned her block calender to Janaury 5th?

I have no idea. But finally - with the evidence that all the newspapers on the carpet have December dates, that something from the fridge has an Eat by Date of 12/30 - she kind of accepts that it is still December.

In the afternoon I offer her the chance to get out - and she chooses to go by car to the subway station and head into town alone on the chance of meeting her "friend" at the coffee shop. 
I give her Y2,000 for shopping and hope she doesn't come home with too much that I have to factor into New Year cooking plans.
She comes back 3 hours later and I pick her up at the subway station - no shopping at all and a slightly sore knee.

Home for dinner and chat.
She spends the evening staring at her calender and bits of paper.
The TV and newspaper and supermarket flyers are full of end of year sales and news.
But she has a nagging suspicion that it's January 5th.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Those Christmas cupcakes

Probably too late - but for Anonymous who asked me.

Here is the recipe for the Christmas Cupcakes - really easy and delicious.

Good old BBC. Is that Nigella? i'm out of touch with the Celeb Chefs in the UK now.

http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/72622/christmas-cupcakes


Christmas 2013

Christmas. Always strange in Japan.
Most Japanese - if they celebrate it at all of course - celebrate it on Dec. 23, which is the Emperor's Birthday and a public holiday. Or on December 24th evening.
KFC and strawberry cream cakes.

I had classes on Dec. 24th and again today- the 26th.
So my Christmas was really a 24 hours of food and chocolate and presents, and alcohol and TV. Outside is snow.

Two days before I heard that my uncle had died. My mum's brother. He and I haven't met in years, but he found me thru e mail and we mailed quite a lot. His son replied to my latest mail....I'm sad that he died. Sad too because he was the last blood relative of the immediate family.
I really am on my own now. With this Japanese guy and his mum.


I am very grateful to friends in the UK and Japan who send me presents, giving me something to put in the corner of the living room under the rubber plant and rip open on Dec. 25th at breakfast time.
Dear Son was home for 2 whole days from ski work - which really is the best present of all. Now he's gone again, until January 4th....yup - I am alone with Okaasan for the holidays again :-)

Okaasan enjoyed Christmas with us.
She came home from day center with cards for both of us! Just like a kid coming home from play school with cards for Mommy and Daddy. Here is mine....I don't think she made the picture, but she wrote a message on the back....



December 24th night I cooked Tandoori chicken (but very mild) and roast potatoes and salad, and then left over cake from my class parties. And we risked giving Okaasan a little mulled wine and the three of us toasted "Melli Kurisumasu!". And got stuck in. Okaasan ate loads and had seconds of the chicken.

We didn't directly give her a present this year. I felt before that it put her on the spot a bit about not having a present to give us in return. But in the past few days I've added new pajamas and underwear to her supplies - just bought them, crumpled them up a bit (to get that used look) and left them in her room....I can't bear the idea of an actual shopping trip with her.

And now - December 26th. I've got last classes today and tomorrow and Japan is rushing into New Year. Most offices will finish tomorrow.

It's a strange overlapping time: Christmas afternoon I am sitting scoffing chocolate and writing messages on all my Japanese New Year cards. Post them by Dec. 25th and they will get delivered on New Year's Day.
At the community center building today I noticed that they had big pine and bamboo door displays outside - and then inside a large Christmas tree.
 Both festivals jostling with eachother ;-)

And so here too. I shall take down the Christmas stuff in the kitchen and start to think how to give Okaasan a New Year without too much work and stress for me.

First this:


It's a bag of precut and cooked veggies. All the new year traditional veggies that go into the basic simmered in soy sauce and sweet sake dish called umani.
I found it last week in a wholesale shop, when I was buying Christmas cake stuff. It'll save me buying all those veggies bit by bit and then cutting them all up. All I have to do is make the soup to cook them in.
Last week I met the fellow gym member who gave me a New Year food cooking lesson last year.
"What are you cooking for your family this year?" I asked her.
"Me? Oh no, I'm a bit bored of New Year food - I'll do some chicken and sushi for my husband's parents. That's all!".
And SHE is a cooking teacher.

Okaasan? Rather worryingly she is getting into New Year mode too.
She has put up the little rice ball decoration that she bought a few weeks ago, and she cut out this advert from the paper. She sits and looks at it, taking it out of those plastic file, putting it back in, then taking it out again..



It's BIG bottles of sake for New Year. 1.8 L of sake.
She started bugging Dear Son early this morning about it. 
"You should order this! Look! It's a good price!"
Well, he will be away. I don't drink sake. Okaasan drinks a little. The cats don't...I think.

So I really hope she doesn't decide to buy some! Must make sure I don't let her into a shop with too much money.
I plan to take her somewhere for New Year feeling - maybe the park where they sell door decorations etc. But a supermarket or department store would be a big risk. 
Once she sees stuff she will be hard to dissuade about buying it.

Once upon a time Okaasan cooked huge dinners for New Year and her husband's staff. They all came to dinner. So of course she remembers that, and all the stuff on TV and in the newspaper is triggering those memories.

I will have to be careful about her shopping trips. By telephone or on foot.







Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Twas the night before Xmas...

...when all thru the house, not a creature was stirring....

only Okaasan ...television shopping at 4.30 am!

In the early hours I'd gone downstairs to the toilet after a big meaty dinner out with Cutest Baby and his family the evening before. My body in shock from meat, eat. And more meat.

Going back upstairs I paused. Could hear voices.
Outside in the street? Okaasan's TV on extra loud? Santa 24 hours early?

???? Okaasan was talking to someone! Giving her address to someone! I crept into the kitchen and peered thru into her room. 
She was sitting on the sofa with her mobile phone, holding out the My Important Contact Info laminated card we made for her handbag...telling somebody her address.

"Somebody" was a TV shopping company and Okaasan was apparently buying Glucosamine, the supplement for weak joints etc. TV is always showing old people running up and down stairs and doing the splits etc after taking these pills.
Hell - Dear Son and I were taking these pills a few years ago for our gammy knees. Seemed to help. I actually stopped, cos I read that the sugar in them may be raising my blood sugar too much...giving me the leg spasms.

ANYWAY.
4.30 am and Okaasan is having a long and confused conversation with some sales person.
I go into her room as if by chance and she waves me away impatiently.
I hover in the kitchen listening in....and hoping she wasn't ordering a jumbo box of the stuff.

She comes off the phone. I ask. She tells me she has never ever taken medicine for anything, but sometimes her knees hurt and this Glucosamine stuff could be good - someday.
She's quite tense about it all - probably a bit stressed from the confusing conversation.

But I see an opening( brain into action early morning): "Oh yes, it's good stuff, Dear Son and I were taking it for our knees! In fact we still have a large jar of it!"
I rush upstairs and return with the large jar. That gets Okaasan. She hates the idea of buying too many things, wasteful etc
"It's ok! You can cancel it - if you call back! You can cancel the order!"

By now Dear Son (he is back for 3 days, and then gone again) has got out of bed to see what on earth we are doing downstairs at this time..and while he hovers in the kitchen I am trying to help Okaasan negotiate the cancelling phone call...FULL of confusion with a different salesperson about which telephone number (his and my mobile and the house landline) she gave in the first conversation. Or her OWN cell phone number.
I don't know. She doesn't know.

The sales woman doing the graveyard shift for the TV shopping company must have been banging her head against the wall while still keeping up that over the top politeness to a customer.
It goes on and on, round and round. Okaasan won't let us take the phone and try to help, of course. It's exhausting.
Finally - 20 minutes later - she has managed to cancel the order. We hope.
And she comes off the phone and looks relieved. We tell her to ask us if she wants to take any supplements for her knee pain etc. Not to start ordering stuff off the TV in the middle of the night.
Maybe we should remove the telephone from her room at night...

Lucky! That I heard her and could stop it. That it was only a cheapish health thing. Not a family set of peacock down futons...

She says her knee isn't bad. But. We guess that it is on her mind sometimes.
The hot hands and kind chat chiro might be a good idea. Or the Glucosamine....

And that was the start of my Christmas Eve.
On into the day of classes with homemade Christmas cupcakes and parties and end of year chat, off to buy some late presents, off to deliver presents and then home to cook chicken and potatoes and stuff for Dear Son and Okaasan.

Descending into over-eating and happiness....

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Downtown trip

Did my Oyomesan duty yesterday and took Okaasan downtown for a look at the Christmas lights and a feel of the season.
She hasn't been downtown alone for months - well there was once.

I felt she should get out and enjoy the season with crowds and decorations.

I drove her downtown with a white lie that I had to meet an old student for a few hours - so she could enjoy herself freely and then meet up with me and come home again by car.
Wondered whether I should go round with her - but decided she probably enjoy going back to her old haunts and doing what SHE chose - so arranged to meet her later.

It's always hard to make plans for meeting with Okaasan. I'm never sure whether the information has lodged in her memory or not. LOTS of repeating of the main message: "Here at 5.30 pm. Yes, inside. Here. This coffee shop. 5.30.....5.30....5.30  ..."
I try to keep the information simple - didn't elaborate too much on where I was meeting the old student etc, in case THAT information got into the mix.
Dropped her off outside her favorite coffee shop, and I disappeared to do some shopping and wandering of my own.

The central park of the city - right opposite the coffee shop has winter illuminations and a German-theme Christmas market - so it looked perfectly. Inside the market itself looked slippery because we hadn't had fresh snow for a week - but the scene looked good from across the road.

Came back just before 5.30 pm.
No Okaasan in or out of the coffee shop.
I waited 10 mins. Then called her.
She was 100 m away in the underground shopping area - said she was coming. Waited another 15 mins. More phone calls, I ran around into the shopping area to look for her - thinking "wow! So many people seem to have orange padded winter coats!"...and started to panic...had I lost her? had I over-assumed how much she remembers about being downtown? Thought about asking information desk to make an announcement.
Wondered what Dear Son would say if I lost his mother, or she fell and injured herself. Felt my blood pressure edge upwards.

Went back to the coffee shop and there she was. With coffee and a cake "because it's rude to just order coffee, but no I don't want it...you eat it...."

We sat in comfortable-twosomeness and watched all the customers come and go, people loaded down with Christmas shopping and families out for the lights in the park. There I was in HER favorite coffee shop, where she used to meet the friendly woman etc Okaasan was happy to be back in that place.
It was a good thing to do.

Her walking downtown was actually good. I was pleased and surprised. The parking area was a basement, but she got down about 20 steps holding onto the handrail and didn't seem to complain about leg pains.

Came home and made Okaasan a Korean onepot dish with lots of tofu and veggies. She had just plopped down in front of the TV when it was ready - so I gave it to her there...and I retreated upstairs to finish off the day very healthily...with mulled wine and cheesecake.

Oh - and Christmas cake cupcakes?
From the BBC Food website - VERY good. I've made a batch this afternoon - oh yum.....very yum. Will try them with more alcohol next....


Friday, 20 December 2013

Who's been cooking in MY kitchen?

The slippers started it.

Every Japanese home has a line (or jumble) of shoes in the entrance due to the shoe changing custom.
It's a good indicator of who is in and out. Office workers probably have double shoes so they can leave one pair in workplace entrances to make the boss think they are actually IN the building somewhere, while in fact they are out snoozing at a coffee shop or catching a movie.

So. Our entrance hall...with its jumble of shoes and boots.

I came home and found the guest slippers out on the floor.

??????????????

Guest? who? A scheming futon cleaning salesman? A roof repair guy? Mormons?
My mind was on alert. Not it's usual state as I arrive home from work.

I go into the kitchen.
Okaasan is standing there in her pajamas drinking some water.
"Okaasan, who came today? was there a visitor?".  (breaking First Rule of Dementia: DON'T ask direct questions).
"Today? A guest? Oh...err....that place I go to....that place....they came...they came, didn't they?"

"Day service came here today? Really? Why?"
She didn't know. I didn't know. My mind was a whirl. Her mind too of course...

Then I saw an empty pack of instant curry and a frying pan.
Day care came and cooked? There was some big miscommunication and they thought we were away? So they came and cooked for Okaasan?
Really?
Do burglars in Japan come in and cook for themselves?

Okaasan is now peering into the box of shopping I had just brought into the kitchen.
"They brought this maybe?"
"Err, no - I brought that in here 1 minute ago!"
Confused leading the confused. In circles.

Really I felt a sense of dread mixed with disbelief.
Who had come into the house? And why would they cook in the kitchen?

Then.

AhHa! A personal coffee pot carrier! That belongs to Dear Son, he uses it when he goes skiing.
Upstairs a sleeping bag roll.
Little things were moved all over the house. The TV was set on the sports channel.


Dear Son! He must have come during the day - on his way between ski resort jobs. Stopped off to change clothes, eat instant curry, leave the sleeping bag...

Back in the kitchen I reported to Okaasan that the mystery was solved: "Y came back didn't he! Did you meet him? (let's just go on breaking Dementia Rules with wild abandon while we are at it...)

"Y? Today? Did I meet him? Is he here?"

She really had no idea that sometime during the afternoon, a few hours before - she had met and probably had a short conversation with Dear Son. Nothing.
When I'd rushed in and shocked her with the direct question: "Who was here today?" she sorted around in her memory and came up with an answer which seemed to fit - because once a month to day care manager comes to meet Dear Son and Okaasan to review the service.

Guest? Guest slippers? = Day care people came.

* :-) Okaasan went off to day care twice this week. All happy. She talks about having a friend at day care, which is a very good sign.
I asked one of my friends to translate the service report paper for me - in case there are any important bits of information.
Usual stuff about - "Please send Okaasan with an extra pair of trousers next week, cos she pissed in the ones she was wearing. etc"

And: "She was very happy at lunchtime and said 'It's nice to have so many different kinds of food, because I don't cook so much at home'".

"I don't cook so much" ??????????????!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Yeah, right. Not at all Okaasan! Not at all! That switching on the heat for the oden a few nights ago, that wasn't cooking :-)

I cooked it. Got myself the scissors and opened the supermarket pack and poured the pre-cooked oden into the table-top cooker.......that's cooking :-)

Onwards into Christmas week.

In Japan this year it is preceded with a 3 day weekend. Emperor's birthday. A time to sit down and write all the new year cards, check addresses. Have to post them by December 25th really.
And Monday night I am going to have a gorgeous hotel buffet dinner with Cutest Baby and his mum. Dear Son might be home for a day or two next week - or not. I haven't made any plans for Christmas dinner for him and Okaasan. If he is home I'll get some chicken and create something.

Work is winding down - most of the lunch/dinner end -of-year parties are done. Got a few classes next week, but less than usual. Got a video narration job today.
Thinking about making Christmas cake cupcakes for Tuesday classes. Think I should practice that and eat the samples this weekend.

onwards.






Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Yes! She can!!!!

Oh here we are - on a caring roll. :-)

Sunday night when I went into the kitchen (after writing the last post) I realized Okaasan had actually washed up the dinner dishes for me. Excellent.
She doesn't usually - some reason about you should let the body rest after eating, but while she can put a little water in dishes and leave them "till tomorrow", by tomorrow she has forgotten and we almost always wash up after meals.
But Sunday night - she obviously remembered that Dear Son was away and I was busy prepping Christmas classes - so she washed the dinner plates for me. :-)))

It's a small thing - but all good.

Then yesterday: my day of  leaving home at 9 am for classes and two end of year parties - getting home at 9.30 pm.

I left Okaasan in charge of her own dinner AND asked her to feed the cats!
And she did it. I'm officially an Okaasan Trainer now. :-)

I copied and pasted one of Dear Son's letters to Okaasan that is on the computer. My Japanese isn't good enough to write an original letter, but I can cobble together a letter from his old letters.

I deleted and added in some sentences: telling Okaasan that I was out at a party in the evening. Telling her that lunch would be delivered as usual. Telling her to heat up the oden in the table top cooker for dinner and telling her to open a pack of dried cat food and put it in the bowls on the stairs.
Then I set out the oden on the kitchen table. Put cat bowls on the stairs - and marched into Okaasan's room to give her the letter and ask her to follow it.

She was pleased ( I think) to be asked to do something for me. She got up and came into the hallway to check the cat bowls, and wished me good luck at end of year party madness.
I set out thru the snow and ice and RAIN! to my day of work and parties. The streets are baaad.

......

And I came home at 9.30 pm and...

She had eaten ALL the oden (it was a pack for two people) - and not burned the house down.

She had fed the cats one pack of food.

The other pack was still on her table....not to worry - it wasn't their only food of the day and I was home eventually - Japanese doesn't have plurals - and my letter hadn't specified "give the cats BOTH packs of food".

The only failing? Dear Son's mistake methinks: the lunch delivery didn't come. Which is why Okaasan ate all the oden - for her lunch and dinner.
He organises the lunch deliveries, maybe he got the dates wrong.

But MY side of it all - all went well.

Using your Okaasan. It is very important! She can be the cat sitter in future :-)

It is so easy with old people to do everything for them. It's quicker and simpler. But getting them to do stuff and asking them to do favors for you - it's good physical activity and everyone likes to feel needed.
I've just been in Okaasan's room and given her big thanks for feeding the cats. Hope that gives her nice warm, fuzzy feelings about herself and life.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Caring - Day 1.

Start like mean to go on - all caring and active.

Got Okaasan to have a bath this morning. Months and months since  she has done that. But no negativity about it: I just ran the bath for her, heated up the room, set out towels on the chair and called her with the suggestion that we'd talked about it already - "bath is ready now!".
She got up and fussed around getting stuff together. And then spent a good hour in the bathroom, washed her body and her own hair.

I also sewed the hem of her trousers so she won't fall over it. She can do this herself, but I don't want this job sitting undone for days on the table - it is just simply easier to do it myself. Even with my sewing skills :-)


Gave her lunch and a bit of chat. White lie excuse about "going to a friend's birthday party, shouldn't eat too much..."

Actually went downtown, had lunch quietly in a coffee shop and studied kanji...and then saw a great movie starring Helen Hunt called "The Sessions", about handicapped people and sexual awakening.

Came home. Cleared snow. Cooked dinner.
Ate with Okaasan and heard her stories about going to Ayre's Rock and New York to see the Statue of Liberty. Sometimes the stories got mixed up...I don't think tours to the statue give their customers breakfast before climbing the statue!!! And I'm pretty sure there aren't camel rides in New York.

It's been sometime since I've heard Okaasan waffle round and round in these old stories. Same old stuff. Repeats and repeats and repeats. Yujiro never shows enough interest in her chat to let her do more than two tellings of the same event.
I let her go on and on: 6 or 7 or 8 times....the dementia books say this is good. As long as you can muster up enough interest to give reactions when required. So I let her go on and on.

Well, I do at the moment. It's only Day 1.
By the end of next week I'll be cutting her off after two tellings.

Tomorrow I have TWO end of year parties with students. Lunch and dinner. I will leave at 9 am and won't get home till 9 pm or later.
Lunch delivery is ordered. For dinner I am going to set out oden, a kind of simmered pot of stuff, because I think Okaasan can switch on the table top cooker for that. It's a one pot dinner.

AND! I am going to ask Okaasan to feed the cats.
Rather than organise a cat sitter. Or leave the poor little monsters to starve for a few hours.
I'm going to give Okaasan two packets of dried food and a note, and ask her to put some food down on the stairs for the cats about 5 pm.
I think she can do it. We jokingly call the cats "Neko-sama", which is a very polite form of Japanese - and Okaasan generally enjoys watching the cats and what they do. I think she can open a pack of food and put it on a plate. Give her some responsibility.

Got to go to bed now...
Double party tomorrow. GOnna be a tough day.


Saturday, 14 December 2013

Let the winter begin!

I'm READY!
In my dorky hat and ski gloves, with my monster machine of a snow blower - I am ready for what winter throws at me!

And also ready: for a 10 day starter stretch of time looking after Okaasan alone.
Dear Son's ski teaching schedule changed and he left today for the mountains.

Alone with Okaasan. Here we go again. This is my winter :-)

But not alone now - I have kind, helpful wonderful day care. They will take Okaasan twice a week for dance, lunch, bath and chat. I have end-of-year parties, I have classes. And I have a car. And a snow blower.

And two cats.

On our last day (for a while) as a family we went for lunch at a local curry place. Okaasan was happy to eat her way through a huge vegetable curry, and she clung on to Dear Son's hand as we walked thru the snow to the restaurant.
Because Sapporo now has snow. It snowed all day Friday - non-stop like one of those shake-snow balls with a Christmas scene. And then at 5 pm it turned into a blizzard. A real, howling blizzard. Amazing to see it in an urban area.
I only had to drive 1 km home, but it was scary. I could only see the tail lights of the car in  front. And nothing at the side. Fleeting glimpses of shop lights flickered thru the whirling snow. The car shook.

So this morning: my debut with the snow blower that he bought off the Internet cheaply...made in China....he is using our old car for ski work and on the few times he is home during winter we need two parking spaces at the house. The lawn - usually buried in a meter of snow - has to be kept clear. I can't do it by muscle power alone....

And so.
Another winter as the solo carer for Okaasan. Long dinners together as she chats on about fish, and wartime memories and I try to judge how long more I have to stay and chat. It IS a responsibility; everything that will happen to Okaasan in the next 10 days is my decision and doing - what she eats, what she wears, where she goes...and of course HOW she feels.

I'm getting better at it. Maybe there won't be any more peeing in the trash box as I hide upstairs. Maybe.
But there'll be wine.
And chocolate.
And white lies as I escape to have lunch or dinner alone.

Hope you'll stick around :-)



Wednesday, 11 December 2013

My beautiful laundrette

Thankyou all!
I've been off doing something called Life. Hadn't checked in here for a while, and Comments Awaiting Moderation hadn't forwarded into my email - so there was a little rush of friendly comments when I just logged in here.
Thankyou :-)

And here we are - getting into December and all the usual end-of-year panic.

And.


Skiiiiiing...................................................

Back at the ranch of underpants and old newspapers: Okaasan had a laundry day. A very rare occurrence.

A year? Maybe 2 years ago - she would take some of dirty clothes into the bathroom, either when she was having a bath, or just to do laundry. She'd hand wash everything and rinse them in the bath and spin dry them in the machine. Then she would take the clothes in a bowl into her room or outside to the line and ever so carefully hang them up to dry. Later take them down and fold them up, unfold and refold several times...and leave them around her room to get mixed in with the remaining dirty clothes...

Now: the clothes mount up in the two laundry boxes in her room, and around on the sofa and carpet and table. I sweep in when she is out and grab what I can to do it all in the washing machine and hang them up upstairs in our apartment. I iron/fold and give them back to her. Very occasionally she will wash a pair of underpants, or wash stuff at day care and bring it home wet in a plastic bag.....to be forgotten for days unless I happen to hunt thru the bag.

Last week I tried a different tactic: "Oh Okaasan! Look, your wet clothes from day center! In a bag! What shall we do? Do you want to wash them?"
"Wash clothes? It's too cold...."
I heated the kitchen and bathroom.
"Wash clothes now?"
I gave her the washing powder and bowls.
I put the bags of wet knickers on the carpet in the entrance to her room.

And finally she did.
I say finally, because it turned into a two or three hour event: first she got dressed, then she sorted thru ALL her clothes and tried to decide what was dirty. Then she opened the bags with a few knickers in them, and lots of other stuff and set to on an orgy of handwashing and rinsing and hanging.
Really: hours. I left for work. I left her lunch flasks out. Dear Son came home from ski teaching and Okaasan was still doing it all.
I thought I was encouraging her to just open the bags and wash the few knickers. But once she got the idea of "laundry" in mind she was locked into the Full Wash Cycle. Couldn't stop once started.

It was good for her: mentally and physically. I should prompt her to do it more often. Really. In fact, it made me admit to myself that she should be having a bath at home (and doing laundry) at least once a week. Since she started daycare we haven't been bothering to get her to bath at home. Twice a week she goes to day care. But, we should be making her bath at home at weekends when we are around to check safety etc. We really should. She sits and stares at the Tv for so many hours.

Apart from that? I took her twice to the local supermarket and left her wandering around inside for an hour, with instructions to phone us when she was ready to come home. 
Her legs are so much weaker. She walks with a shopping trolley for support. She complains about knee pains. So different from the hours and hours downtown she was doing earlier this year.

Maybe another trip to the laying on of hot hands and chatting treatment?
Actually, although I am still a skeptic about it - I went back to that place myself last week. I had some scary repeats of my thigh earthquakes. Was it stress or dehydration? Don't know. But the young woman with hot hands and a sympathetic ear made me relax.
maybe Okaasan should go back.

:-( Toilet problems are increasing....
The towel that Okaasan is using under her body when sleeping is wet with urine almost every day. I've bought a bedsheet from the drugstore, it looks enough like a sheet that hopefully she won't know what it is for and refuse to use it. It soaks in urine and can be washed easily. ;-(



Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Japanese Test....

...yeah...well.....

If they had questions about "You'd like to get up off the carpet and put on clothes and go to day service, wouldn't you?" - then I'd have aced the thing!

But instead Level 4 had things about Kenji and whether Takashi-san had helped him with his studies, or whether the hotel reservation is Y10,000 a night on the Internet.

Who knows? The reading was easier than I expected - the long passage was a letter from an old person thanking the junior high school students who came to help him, and the listening was easy for me because I listen to Dear Son's daily dinner lectures about all-things-under-the-sun. 
But the kanji.....ahh.....I hadn't studied enough higher level kanji really. And it was questions that didn't allow guesswork,, so I used that time honored test taking technique - choose c).

Anyway.
December 2 2008. That's when it all started.....I was furnishing an apartment ready for my boyfriend's mother, who was moving to Sapporo to live next door to us. I was wondering what to cook for dinner (things never change!) and my life as an Oyomesan was about to start...

Down memory lane...
Okaasan and Me....the first day...



Sunday, 1 December 2013

Dementia views

HI!
A few hours from now I will be taking Level 4 of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test at Hokkaido University. Trying to improve my language skills so I can be a volunteer at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.



So, I should be studying. Cramming. Trying to get my ga's, ni's, kara's in order.
But I'm here instead, cos it's more relaxing. :-)

Was my last posting a whole week ago? Where did all that time go?
What on earth happened in the past week?

Right......it was Dear Son's birthday! He became fifty five years old. Absolutely ancient. I took him out for cheese fondue and red wine. 


What else? I was still recovering from the Tokyo lurgy, so operating on half energy for much of the week. I still have a pile of stuff on the table that I took out of my handbag pre-Tokyo - haven't had the energy/interest in putting it all back in there again.
I'm getting like Okaasan.

Oh! And blog reader K-san and her family came to stay!!! Via Couch Surfing, the people to people homestay website. I think she looked on CS and suddenly realised the British woman in that host profile - is the same woman living with that old lady and cooking tofu in a million different ways. We had a sushi dinner out with her and her husband and children, but not really enough time to chat about Okaasan and Me and our lives. But still, nice to know there are real people out there reading these ramblings and enjoying them.

Okaasan good this week. She went to day care twice - although stuck again on the thought: "I go there twice a week? Really? twice a week?", but she got up when reminded and got ready and went. Apparently she saw "someone" at the front door and actually greeted them....although there was nobody there because the driver and Dear Son were chatting by the car.

Day center recently have asked us to send Okaasan along with an extra pair of black trousers, because the toilet accidents are more frequent and they need to change her into clean clothes. At first we were handing over the extra clothes surreptitiously to the pick-up driver. Now we just do it directly and if Okaasan asks we say "clothes for after your bath", and she accepts it. I went and bought another pair of black trousers, so there are 4 in rotation - worn/being cleaned/extra/lurking in her room. The night before going to Tokyo I was sewing the hem of the new pair - my duties as Oyomesan :-)

Experts talking dementia and home care.


Last week NHK Tv broadcast a special program about dementia and care in the family. A retired producer had videotaped his mother over many years at home, from the start of her dementia to the sad, last gasps in hospital as she died aged 99. 
Many of my students - middle aged and elderly people - watched it and commented on it. We recorded it and finally got to watch it last night. Dear Son and I.

Oh, the familiar scenes.
The Okaasan in the program had lived alone for many years after her husband died, independent and healthy. But a good neighbor noticed strange behavior first about money management and housekeeping, and less and less cooking.
It sounded so familiar.
Then there was a period when the family were pre-cooking trays of food and leaving How to Cook in the Microwave Oven instructions, and going in to clean and sort out a messy house.
Then there were toilet accidents. Shit everywhere. And the Okaasan very surprised about it - reminded me of my conversations here last year? with Okaasan about soiled underwear.
And then loss of mobility after a stay in hospital, and more toilet accidents, and confusion...and feeding, and dressing.....and decline.
Of course, there were funny and happy scenes as the mother and son laughed and talked. The studio experts said how important it was to have routine and normal family life.
The producer and his mum.


As the program was finishing I glanced at Dear Son and realized: he was crying.
I comforted him and reassured him we were doing great. HE is doing great. These years now are forming a bond so that when we have the hard times ahead with Okaasan care, she will trust us and we will support eachother. It's all ok.

One of my students who commented on this program is in her late 70s. Fiercely independent and able.
"All this stuff now about dementia being a sickness, you know...years ago nobody said that. It was just accepted as one of the things about getting older, so people just helped and understood and did what they could...it's how we should think..."

I agree with her. To an extent. It is just a stage of getting older, but it is also more than that. The person with dementia is kind of protected within the sickness, they don't know the limits of their life - that they haven't eaten, or brushed their teeth or hair, that outside is cold and not T-shirt weather, that they have bought 5 pots of the same yogurt, that there is rotting food under the newspaper, that there IS no man standing outside the door at night.....for the family/carers these are the things to help with and gently guide around.

The TV program reminded me what may be ahead for us. The toilet accidents, for sure. Now Okaasan regularly pisses in her multi-layer pants, and about once or twice a week there is shit on the toilet floor or in her clothes. She tries to clean herself up, she hides the soiled clothes in her room. And forgets them. I go in and find them and wash or throw them away.
I think we are nearing the time to get some kind of sleeping mat or sheet - so that we can keep her sleeping and sitting area clean.
Okaasan sleeps on the floor between the sofa and the heated table, under the heater blanket. Under her body is just carpet and wood flooring, and usually a towel.
We gave her a futon when she first came here, but she has never, ever used it. She watches TV in the evening, sitting on the floor under the table blanket. And then sleeps there too. A few times she sleeps on the sofa. Usually the floor - she is Japanese, afterall.
But the toilet accidents are increasing and a easy-to-clean mat would be a good idea...

She hasn't tried to cook (heat rice/egg/water) in  a pan for many months. She hardly washes her own clothes anymore.
But she dresses herself, usually successfully. She keeps some kind of order on her table. She (eventually) puts away piles of washed clothes and she takes part in conversations.

Next week? December 3rd maybe? It is FIVE years since Okaasan came to live with us. Five years since this blog started.

We have done so much to make Okaasan's life better. If she was still living alone in her home in Saitama I think her dementia would be much worse. Actually I think she would be incapable of reason by now. So we have extended her happy, calm life by our care.

I thought - naively - she may live only 3 or 4 years when she first came....

In the NHK program that lady lived to be 99!

Okaasan is 83 now. Plenty more years left in her.

I think I'll be blogging for a while yet....

now....what shall I do with the rest of my Sunday???

Hmm.......






Sunday, 24 November 2013

Downtown return

Okaasan went back down town yesterday - first time in 3 months!
August 27th she had that drama of getting to the subway station and unable to walk and being brought back in a taxi and then we carried her into the house on the garden chair.
And then weeks and weeks of pain....and finally starting to walk again....as far as the local shops.

But she never ventured downtown at all. Passes the subway station almost everytime she goes out. Has a rail pass in her handbag. But didn't go. The old routine of the coffee shop, the shopping mall and the convenience store cafe seemed abandoned.

Yesterday Dear Son and I didn't get out of our pajamas. Both struck down by whatever bug we picked up in Tokyo. Headcold central. All day TV and boxes of tissues scattered everywhere.

Checked Okaasan on the GPS about 4.30 om and there she was: right in the center of Sapporo again! Excellent!
She came home also ok a few hours later - and had a vague thought that maybe she'd been downtown...wasn't really sure.....

Why? 
I reckon it's due to the day care center outing they did on Thursday. They took her and other members in a minibus to a cafe in the center of town for tea. I think it jogged Okaasan's memory of downtown and its delights. So she went herself.

Mind you - today she seemed back to confusion.....went out for a walk mid-afternoon and came home within the hour....knee hurting and NOT happy because she'd left her handbag at home, and had no money for shopping or taxi...and ...and ...and...she looked tired tonight from that stress.

But - she got downtown and home again successfully. Winter is just about to arrive here and her walking still isn't as strong as it was, I think this year she won't go out so much.
I hope she won't.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Before I forget...

I'd better update on the events of last week...before I forget, and before the next wave of headcold bleughhhhness overcomes me. Still not 100 %. Feeling bleugh.

Last Sunday, 40 mins before leaving for the airport I went into Okaasan's room and told her that both Dear Son and I would be away until "the day after tomorrow", and I gave her his letter describing this and the day service visits to cook dinner, and the cats away information.
She didn't seem too worried, and said she had no questions. Sorted thru the money I left her.
I escaped.

Outside the concert - we even got interview by a TV crew.

Y16,000 for seats soo sooo far away!

Post-concert ribs...


Our main event in Tokyo was to the concert - which was great. He sang a lot of Beatles music, both well-known and not, various Wings' songs and tribute songs to John and George. He played a variety of guitars and two pianos, and amazingly - his voice was okay. Good actually.
It was all worth the hassle and the expense of going to the big city. And, thankfully - no earthquakes while we were there.

But we also visited Kawagoe, a city about an hour from Tokyo. Had a dinner out with Dear Son's old work friends and a look around the old town with its historic buildings.

Kawagoe is where Okaasan was born. It's the center of most of her stories - her father had a haulage business, and local cabinet makers would bring their precious cabinets to him to deliver to customers in the Tokyo and Yokohama area. This is pre-war, when having a driving license and having a vehicle was unusual. The home and business was one, they had a telephone that local people would come to use. Okaasan was the oldest of a big family, she looked after the younger kids. She ran in the long grass by the river. She made underwear for soldiers instead of going to junior high school, she worked in the fields. She remembers an American plane crash landing and someone sending for the school teacher, because he spoke some English. She remembers the American soldiers driving around. She remembers the police opening and stealing food packages...and no food.
It's another world: the Japan of her childhood.

It was so strange to be THERE, at that place of her childhood. Dear Son's uncle still lives in the city, maybe his house in next to the land where Okaasan's family home stood. He isn't quite sure.
So, before the co-workers party we ambled thru the shopping area at dusk, a long, lively pedestrian street of shops and lights. We walked out the back of the department store, where shoppers were hurrying home - and stood for a few moments in the back street outside uncle's house. I wondered how much this had all changed since little Kazuko's days with the cabinet delivery business.
I felt sad that Okaasan now lives hundreds of miles away from this town - she lives in a cold place with snow and ice and darkness. She would be so happy to live in Kawagoe, never really very cold, with that shopping street and familiar place names.
But - only her youngest son was prepared to look after her when dementia robbed her of self-care abilities. And his life is near ski areas in the cold, wintery place.

I made a small promise in my heart that we should try to bring her here at least one more time before she dies. It would be a huge stressy time to do it, but I think we should.

And so. Home again on Tuesday afternoon.

Day Service had got their information mixed up and taken Okaasan for her Tuesday session. We'd actually cancelled it, thinking it would be too much for them to come to the house and get her ready without us. But somehow they did.
It gave me a moment of panic though: I arrived home and found her out. Assuming she was in the local shops I casually checked the phone GPS map and peered desperately at the map that popped up on the screen showing her location.
Where is this? Not the local shops? Where IS she???
Missed a heartbeat - and then realized it was the day care center.
Had a bit of a thing with the convenience store lunch box delivery people, who had brought Okaasan's lunch and found the house empty.

(Dear Son complained to the day center about it whisking Okaasan off without our permission and the center Manager and a staff member came to our front door Wednesday night to apologize in person - that's Japanese customer service! Then they went to the 7-11 to apologize in person to the delivery man!).

So Tuesday night the three of us gathered to have family dinner. Of course, we couldn't talk about what we'd been doing (concert and Kawagoe), because we were supposedly away working. And Okaasan doesn't ever ask us anything about what we've been doing. So it was a silent dinner.
Our life back again after the excitements of Tokyo. He and I had good couple time before winter comes and he disappears to the ski resorts.

Okaasan was fine with our absence. Maybe she didn't really remember it clearly. I commented that the day service lady had come to cook and chat twice, and she nodded vaguely and said something about going out in the day service car. 
Of course the woman hadn't cleaned in Okaasan's room - there were old food boxes and dirty laundry, wet towels etc. But for 2 nights it was fine. When we go away for a week next year they will need to do more.

And the cats? Chichi and Popo. How did they survive?
Noisily.
A bit thinner and very clingy and happy to be home. But they survived. SO friendly. Animals give love to us, whatever horrors we impose on them.

And then he and I got sick. Probably too much excitement and late nights in Tokyo. We are getting old. I got it first and now he has it. We are both creeping around in our pajamas, wrapped in blankets.
Thankfully my headcold didn't hit till after I'd done the narration job on Tuesday afternoon.
But now...just feel bleu8gh...