Thursday, 26 February 2015

Literal lies

A glass of wine.
I could see it - through a day from hell - I kept getting flashes of that remaining few centimeters of Otaru wine in the bottle at home, poured into the glass and beckoning to me: "Come sip me!"

As I plowed onwards thru a day of tight schedule and must-do-madness...that red wine, in a glass, in my hand....was awaiting.

So as I finally got to the front door at 9 pm my lips were smacking. The bottle was tilting...the wine was heading glasswards...

One cat was miaowing piteously on the snowy door step. Cat entrance window was closed.
Key in the door lock. Turn. Pull.


The security chain was on!
Aghh....... a chain between me and the wine. No no no!!!
Ringing the door bell to get Okaasan out of slumber land, taking off my coat so I could jam my arm through the gap to try and unhook the me wine...give me dinner...and rest...and wine...and...aghhh.....

Not a happy person.

Okaasan staggered blinkingly into the hallway just as I unhooked the chain and opened the door. With famished cat yowling at my feet.

She actually claimed that the day-service helper had done it. Denied putting the chain up etc. I was stressed and pleading: "DON'T put the chain on! I wasn't home yet!"
Of course she picked up on my stress, and was quick to deny what she'd done. Really argued that the helper had gone out thru the door and somehow put the chain on and then locked the door.... which would be bizarre actions for a woman who had returned the key to the service folder on the kitchen chair, and who knew I wouldn't be home until 9 pm.

Situation then went further downhill. All fed by my tiredness and stress, and Okaasan's confusion and defensiveness.

In the kitchen I asked: "All ok, so you went shopping with the day helper? You had dinner?".

Bad idea. Don't ask questions. Dementia 101.

"Dinner? um. No. I didn't buy anything. That person who came. She bought things. I didn't have any money. She bought things....I couldn't buy anything..."

???? No dinner? You didn't buy any food? 

Rising panic that the the wine would have to wait even longer while I had to cook up something for Okaasan's dinner. Final relaxing at the end of the looong day receding into the distance.

I was furiously glancing round the kitchen and in Okaasan's room for evidence of her usual shopping and food. I'd left a note for the day helper TELLING them I wouldn't be home until late, so they knew to make sure Okaasan bought food or they cooked something for her.
Had the system failed?

"I didn't buy anything. I didn't have any money..."

A plastic box of sushi rolls.
Fish paste sausages.
4 aloe yogurts.
Bread rolls
Rice cracker snacks.
etc etc

There it all was. On Okaasan's table. On the kitchen counter. In the fridge.
The clear evidence of a shopping trip and food bought and eaten.
The receipts for all of that in the day service folder. With the change from the shopping. The receipts from the taxi rides. The front door key.

All as it should be.

Okaasan looking at it all as though she had never seen it. I was ( embarrassed to admit this) shaking the pots of yogurt and fish paste sausages at her aggressively....

"Look! Look! You DID go shopping! You did buy these things!!! You did eat this!!! Look! You have dementia, so you don't remember! You bought these things four hours ago!!!"

Not a great moment as a kind, sensitive carer.

Okaasan and I retreated to our respective living rooms. Family stress scene.

I finally consummated my love for the precious wine. A long day..and a bad end.

I guess what was at play here were two things: Okaasan couldn't really remember the shopping trip AND when pressed by my question and my stress about the chained door situation... what she did remember was the feeling that she didn't have any money and the day helper had been holding and controlling the money and paid for the shopping at the checkout.

So it became a literal lie. I did not buy the food. I did not have money. That woman BOUGHT things with her money. I did not buy the things. I did not eat anything. 

Literally it is true: Okaasan did not give the shop staff the money for the foods. SHE did not buy them. The helper "bought" them.

<<She was a by-stander. BY-stander!!!! BUY-stander!! Get it??? Oh, I am funny!! Oh god, I should be locked up.>>

When we take Okaasan shopping, or (in summer) when she goes shopping herself - we make sure she has a little money in her purse. But on these Wednesday day care helper visits we leave taxi/shopping money in the service file for the helper. I'm not sure why : Dear Son and the day service agreed this system?

So, Okaasan is in the supermarket. She picks up foodstuffs she wants. But when she gets to the checkout she doesn't have any money. The helper opens up an envelope and pays the supermarket staff.
That is obviously not a good feeling for Okaasan. She is being marginalized by the action. In public, an outsider is paying for her shopping. Taking away her role in the shopping experience.

When we are shopping with Okaasan we sometimes pay for her shopping, she always comments about: "oh thankyou, I will pay you back later"...although of course she can't/doesn't because we actually control the money in her life. But for her the sight of us paying for her shopping is an acceptable situation. A family member loaning her some money.

The day helper paying for her shopping in the supermarket is not. And so the shopping trip has negative associations. I didn't shop. I didn't buy. I didn't eat.

I'm going to talk to DS about this. Try to make sure that on Wednesdays Okaasan HAS money of her own in her purse, so she can pay for what she chooses. Only give the helper money for taxi fares. Give Okaasan the feeling of control on a shopping trip.

It is such a small thing: leaving money for a shopping trip. We and the day helper didn't think about it. But maybe it had an impact on Okaasan. Who has the money. Actually HAS the money. And when pushed into a stressed situation by a wine-deprived-exhausted daughter-in-law: her negative feelings came spilling out.

So, I guess there was one positive thing to come out of that scene last night. ;-)
I learned that we gotta change that Wednesday routine...

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

英語でホッカイドー Pera Peraトーク500

If you can't use your own blog to promote your own book? Who will?!!!

英語でホッカイドー Pera Peraトーク500 is a book about guiding and home stay hosting in English, in Hokkaido. It is published today by the Hokkaido Newspaper.

Written by my friend Masako Endo - a super guide for foreign visitors to Hokkaido - and edited by me, with an AMAZING CD narrated by me!

It is the follow up book to Pera Pera Hokkaido (2008), which became a local best seller. Used by many language students for English listening and reading practice. Used by people working in the tourist business. Great little book!

It is on sale from today in bookstores, and available online via Amazon. There will also be a Talk Show event at Hokkaido Newspaper, Sapporo on March 12th at 6 pm.

Nothing to do with dementia/international life family/terrible Oyomesan......

But shameless self-promotion :-)

Recording the CD - Endo Masako and Me!

Sunday, 22 February 2015

A good daughter-in-law...

I was the kind, good, caring daughter in law.
Pats self on back.
Took Okaasan downtown in the car for three glorious hours of wandering, eating, chatting and looking at stuff.
She hasn't been downtown in weeks. So must have been a major stimulation to the brain.

A couple of conversation themes accompanied us:
1) You are still sick, are you sure you should be going out?
2) I didn't know we were coming downtown. I am wearing old boots.
3) I had a cold, so I didn't come downtown to the Snow Festival.
4) If I wear my hat, nobody can see that my hair is messy.

Got THOSE four topics round and round and round and round.
Walked her street level to Marui department store, did a couple of circuits of the bag and hat sections and then upstairs to the food floor.
There was a long line outside her favorite restaurant, so she impatienty suggested we went next door. Kind of expensive. But good food and a view over the park.
Yet again: absolutely unable to choose from the menu.
"Anything ok, I don't mind..."
Why IS it that people with dementia go to pieces of given a choice?
The whole menu was in high class swirly Japanese writing, so I couldn't read it. I got the waitress to explain the specials again and ordered two of those.
Tempura, rice, soup and Japanese bits and pieces. We ate in mostly companionable silence.All around us were ladies of a senior age and retired couples having polite lunches. Okaasan looks a bit wild and wooly in this kind of place. But I really can't do much more to get her presentable in public.

After lunch we went one floor down to a food and drink festival of stalls from other parts of Japan. Wandered round and round that. Getting free samples of food.  And interspersing it all with cheerful: "oh, it's ok, we have some of that at home already!" if Okaasan showed too much interest in something.
I bought us a brown sugar sponge cake to share and found us seats to perch on and eat it.
Unfortunately the seats were right opposite a stall selling very high class sake.
Okaasan kept telling me how she likes to drink sake. How she wanted to buy it etc etc. I kept saying:"oh but we have some at home!"...and wishing I'd found seats elsewhere.

Finally we went up to the stall where sake-lovers were appreciatively sipping the samples that the staff were dishing out. Okaasan got two little samples. She knocked them back in an instant. No gentle sipping   :-(
I knew I had to get her away.
Then I politely, but directly said: "so sorry, we can't buy today because we have some at home!" and steered her away.

One  floor down was a clothes shop that Okaasan likes. She used to go to a branch in Tokyo. Out came the old story about the manager of the Tokyo shop promising to come and visit Okaasan in Sapporo and bring her a selection of the latest designs. It's an odd story: born out of a few polite pleasantries uttered 6 years ago by a shop manager in Tokyo. When the woman heard Okaasan was about to move to Sapporo she said something to the effect of: "Oh how nice, I will come and see you there then!".
In Okaasan's mind that phrase fossilized as a plan. She has even written notes to the woman saying: "I look forward to seeing you when you come to Sapporo!". Notes that never get posted. Just written on scraps of paper around her room.

It's a hard story to let slide/accept as all the dementia books tell you to do. But I just made vague sounds of agreement.

Anyway. Our stay in the shop was short.
"I've drunk some sake. I feel drunk!" Okaasan cheerfully told the pinched-nose, skinny shop assistants...
I dragged her out and headed for the exit. Fresh air much needed.

By the time we got to street level the two little sips of sake had really gone to her head.
Had to find her a chair to sit in and I ran three blocks to get the car. Load Okaasan in and drive her home.
Enough excitement for one day!

Saturday, 21 February 2015


Absent from blogging again.

Useless older brother got with the program and decided to take a more active part in his mother's care.
He offered to take her into his home for the winter months - so from November to March he will look after his mother: shop/cook/clean/money manage/chat. Make sure she goes for walks. Make sure she has the correct tea powder and face cream.
That means we will be free for a few months to enjoy orgies of cheese fondue and wine, and meat. 
General all round happiness :-)


No way. Nothing at all like that. 
Think that must have been a delirious dream I had during my recent mammoth headcold. In between the heats and the shivers and the nose blowing.

Life here is as usual.
It is winter. My man is away at a ski resort. I am in Sapporo with work and cats, and Okaasan care.

Busy since my friend left to go back to the UK. Had to get the accounts in order for the accountant. Had to prep some new class material for spring. Lots of work. The car went to the garage for repair....and cost me Y67,000.
And then a head cold.

Okaasan is fine. She and I have shared dinners. She is locked into the story "in the war I didn't go to school and we didn't have any food because the secret police stole our food parcels from countryside relatives". She can tell me that over 10 times during dinner. Even if I talk about something else - completely unconnected - there will be maybe 10 seconds of silence and she will launch into this story again.

When I was at my worst with the headcold she fussed about me being in the kitchen doing things. Kept telling me to go back to be and sleep. 
"I don't need food! It's good not to eat. Once I didn't eat for a week!" - on and on. She actually followed me round the kitchen telling me this. Nice, but actually stress-giving.
I wasn't doing very complicated cooking - not that I ever do. But my interest in food was zero, so I was just opening pre-cooked packages for Okaasan and heating them up.
She went on and on about how I should be back in bed. So I did.
And she didn't get out for a weekend walk. Spent 6 days sitting in front of her TV.

Now I am getting better again, so tomorrow I will take her out. If I am really kind, it will be a rare trip downtown to walk round the shops. If I am less kind, it will be 45 mins in the local shopping center.

Another 5 weeks...6 weeks of winter to go. I saw grass poking up by the side of the house this week. Spring will be coming.
Another winter almost done with Okaasan. In fact I have been surprised that her physical and mental condition has been ok, with such limited activity.
Her legs are definitely weaker though, so her walking isn't at all steady. Before she is allowed to go out alone after the snow melt - there will have to be a few weeks of accompanied walking. Dear Son will have to do more because he will be home more at the end of the ski season.

Today I am off out with a friend to a TV show recording! As audience members. The guests on the TV show are the actors on the NHK drama Massan - Ellie and Massan.
The drama about the founder of the Japanese whisky business and his Scottish wife. It is almost ending, and now the cast are doing end of season publicity tours.
DS and I watch the show, kind of enjoy it. Hokkaido story. International marriage etc. AMAZING pretend-Japanese language skills by the American actress playing the role of the Scottish wife.

Have a good weekend everyone.

Oh - and if you are in Hokkaido. Next week go to a book shop and buy a copy of this is the once that I helped a friend write, and the CD narration is my voice. Good book about Hokkaido and Japanese life in English and in Japanese. :-)

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Walking duties. Cat duties.

Sorry - been busy with life and let the blogging slide.

Now Sunday morning and we are a little relaxed here....

Busy has been the usual work/clear snow/shop/cook/clean merry-go-round.
AND: half a day in a recording studio making the CD that will go with a friend's book about visiting Hokkaido. She wrote the book and I edited it/advised. And the CD is my voice. Book one was a local best seller 6 years ago and we hope Book 2, coming in late February, will be another.

AND: I got called in for an audition for a TV commercial for a local bank. Needed two foreigners for a NASA countdown recreation. Had to SING the bank telephone number and attempt to make cute hand gestures.
Got down to the final two candidates for the job. Then...not cute enough?

AND: old friend from the UK arrived for one week holiday. Snow Festival, skiing, onsen trips...general happiness.

And Okaasan.
I did Take Okaasan Out for a Walk duty last weekend. Let DS sit  by the TV while I took her to a large shopping center and let her loose. I finished my shopping and sat in the coffee shop with sight of the exit. Spotted her occasionally pushing her trolley round the store and standing for loooong periods in front of displays.
Finally - rather like staff at a boating lake - I called her back to base. Managed to remove some of the stuff she'd put in her trolley ("it's ok, we HAVE this already at home!") and then I dashed madly round the store putting things back on shelves.
Okaasan always chooses the quality, expensive items.
Then she and I sat and had a coffee, and drove home again.

One week later, and my friend was coming to the house for a glimpse into my ordinary life in Japan. So I told DS it was his turn for Walking duty. He took his mum to another shopping center for looking, walking and dinner for two hours. Good bonding time for mother and son ;-) He'll thank me for these precious memories after she's gone....

Okaasan had duties too.
Cat feeding.
DS was away working, I was away for a one night trip with my friend.
The evening was covered because the day helper came as usual to take Okaasan to the shop in a taxi, and then supervised her dinner...and with the help of a note from us - put dried food in the cat bowls at the bottom of the stairs.

There was another note for Okaasan with Day 2 Morning instructions about cat food and bowls.

I called Okaasan early morning from a posh hotel hot spring.

"Good morning! Did you feed the cats? Did you find the food packets and bowls ok?"
"Food? Bowls??? Me??? When? What?...The cats are IN the kitchen. Can I go into the kitchen? What? Food? Where? Bowls? Cats! Kitchen! etc etc etc".

I gave up. Called DS at his ski resort breakfast and got HIM to call his mother and talk her through it all. He spent 10 minutes apparently talking and walking her through each stage of the task...

We may have to rethink cat feeding next time we are away.
(and YES - I tried those timed feeder boxes, the cats scrabbled away at the locks and forced them open...).

Sometimes Okaasan can do things we ask her to. Remember to do them. Do them. Sometimes not. She is always happy to try and help, but I worry that actually getting into an unfamiliar situation with confusion probably adds to her stress.

And finally. Just photographs of this beautiful place I am lucky enough to call home...