Saturday, 31 December 2016

Another year over...

Getting to be a custom this.

Last night of the old year. Here - alone - with wine and chocolate, the Tv show on Japanese TV. 

Probably won't make it to midnight. Too old.

Today was good.. I went to my favorite ski resort. Enjoyed long, long runs...met various young, friendly Chinese boarders and skiers. Caught Pokemons. Did the last shopping of the year on my way home. Dear Son hopes to be home tomorrow night.

Cooked Okaasan noodles and herring and veggies. Pretty successful this year. Made sure her TV was off the shopping channel and settled her down with the singing entertainment that ushers in a new year for Japan.

So. Here she is. Survived another year of care by casual neglect with her youngest son and the foreign girlfriend. 86 years old and hanging on.
A definite decline mentally and physically this year. But hanging on. I think she is happy, mostly. I hope so!

Thankyou for reading this blog this year. It's been very patchy in 2016. A bit boring. But I keep on. I am much more relaxed now in my role of daughter in law/carer. Better at ignoring the stuff that doesn't matter. Just letting her be. Kinder? I hope so...

Happy New Year from me and the cats...

Tonight millions of Japanese will go to shrines to pray for health and happiness in 2017. I hope to be healthier in 2017 (after I've finished off all the Christmas chocolate), and I hope to do more kayaking/hiking/travelling.

So. Feeling fat and sleepy.....certainly won't make it to midnight! 
See you in 2017.

Friday, 30 December 2016

New Year food shopping

Here we are again - heading into O-shogatsu. That most Japanese of times of the year. In which I attempt to give an old lady a traditional experience, while her family are busy elsewhere.
Me and Okaasan.
Well, maybe Dear Son might make a guest appearance. January 1st? Maybe.

Today was a busy day for Okaasan.
Partially because I felt guilty after a French course dinner with old colleagues, and then a Thai lunch with a friend. And a lovely morning skiing locally.
Time to put in some Okaasan service.

First it was bath time.
Then it was hair drying and brushing time! She let me! In between trying to pick up bits of trash off the carpet....
Then it was lunch.
Then I managed to get in and vacuum her room.
Then get dressed and car ride to the supermarket.

New Year food shopping.
There is still one more day, so I decided to see what she wanted to buy, and then buy what else we need tomorrow.

First the supermarket bakery.....where Okaasan honed in on a tray piled high with chocolate scones. I was glancing around for the tray and tongs that customers use in a Japanese bakery to take your selection.
Glanced back and found Okaasan grasping a chocolate scone in her hand and peering at it closely....waving it at me: "Look! this is good!"
Shop staff far right having a fit at the sight of a customer handling food!!!
 I'm bowing and apologizing, and running round a table of pizza slices to grab the tray and tongs - and get the scone OUT of Okaasan's hands and onto the tray.

Then we set off round the supermarket....

She pushed the trolley. Chose some fruit,  some fish paste roll, some sweet rice drink and a tray of New Year sweets.
That was it.
No interest in the noodles, no interest in the traditional vegetables or the rice cake....nothing. Really amazing. In past years I can remember dissuading her (or secretly grabbing stuff out of the trolley and reshelving it) from stocking up to cook and feed a crowd of guests. Or the year I had Japanese cooking lessons and made a load of stuff, and then she went out on December 31st and bought more....This year, no interest. A few bits.

Quite a change. Really. More like shopping with a child, who only sees what they want to eat. Sweet stuff, fish paste and rice drink. It was easy.

Okaasan waited patiently on a chair while I packed up the shopping, and then came back to the car willingly...with just a little pause near the bakery and the chocolate scones...

Phew. No piles of strange vegetables to prepare, cut and cook with soy sauce :-)


I leave you with that most traditional time of year...the bakery has created a bread tribute to the animal character of 2017..

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Wallowing in grief

Oh god. When will it stop?

George Michael. Carrie Fisher...Richard Adams....2016 is just taking 'em all. Even the plane full of Russian army band members....

And adding to that. 

Dear Son was trying to call me many times yesterday, during my last working day of the year. Ominous. Calling me daytime.

Okaasan had burned the house down? Useless Older Sibling was dead in the family home with unpaid bills drifting? Work schedule???

Yup. Third guess lucky.

Dear Son was calling to say:"I won't be home for New more requests from rich foreign January 1st? 2nd?"

Of course I was all grown up and supportive about it. Congratulated him on being the most employed ski teacher in Hokkaido. Reassured him that all was well at home. See you "next year" joke joke....

Then I stood on the subway station and fought back the tears. Bugger. Bummer. And other British swear words.

When did he leave for ski work? Something like December 14? 15? Ages ago. First it was "back at Christmas"...then "before New Year" the ski resorts will close early May...

I AM ok. Really. Independent etc etc Can do it. Just. You know.....
It would be nice to have someone else sharing the house care - taking out the trash, remembering to buy cat food, creating dinners out of tofu....
I have all sorts of fun planned for winter holidays - dinners and lunches out. Skiing. Eating chocolate. Doing my accounts. 

But. Still.

Alone with Okaasan for Christmas AND New Year.

ha ha ha...

*** Noticed yesterday that Okaasan's favorite Macdonald's has had a revamp. This summer it was the supermarket she likes to go to. Now the Macdonald's. 
I have a theory that the supermarket renewal and redesign was bad for her mental condition this the home of chicken Mcnuggets and a cup of coffee has undergone a renewal and is all red and black with plush seating. Mac-Japan trying to rebrand itself.

Monday, 26 December 2016

A non-Facebook Christmas

Don't you hate Facebook at Christmas?
All those pictures of food and jollity.
Other people's Christmas.

Mind you, if I was having a Christmas like that I'd be hitting "Post" button too.

So here, for the non-Facebook Christmas...

Dear Son is still away. 3 weeks now. Maybe home for New Year....maybe he ran off with a ski instructor nymphet and hasn't told me yet. When he tells the ski nymphet about his 86 year old mum he'll come back to me...

Christmas in Japan this year was a wonderful 3 day weekend. The Emperor's birthday, then Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. 

Then Friday morning it started snowing here. And snowing. By evening we were thigh deep. A base of almost 1 m. Some 6,000 people camping out at the airport, trains and planes stopped. Holiday plans in a mess.

I was meant to be going to a friend's potluck party in a city near the airport, with a vegetarian lasagna. But I got on two trains at the chaotic station. One cancelled, the other threatening to be an all-station stopper into the snowy I got off the trains and fled the crowds. Took the lasagna to a friend's home in the city.

Day Service came and took Okaasan the storm. These people are amazing! 

Christmas Eve was snow shoveling day. All day. It topped up my headcold nicely. I had no energy left to ski.

Then one cat went missing for 24 hours. I didn't sleep thru worry. Imagined him buried under a meter of snow. I waited up, failed to sleep...didn't see Santa...but finally the cat came home at 3 am. 

Christmas Day I sat on my own with a coffee and the TV.
Took my presents from under the cat tower tree and opened them....

Really, thanks to UK friends and students, I felt it WAS chocolates, bath products, silly books and more chocolates came tumbling out. I had chocolate Santas for breakfast.

Lunch with Okaasan. Leftover vegetarian lasagna for me. Then took her out for a walk to the local supermarket. Millions of Japanese people had done their Christmas shopping, so it was quiet. We walked and looked at stuff. Had coffee in the Macdonalds. 

She is passive really. Just follows what I suggest. Sat for ages and looked out of the Macdonalds window at the parking area.

Came home. Ate more chocolate. Watched a Colin Firth movie on TV. Slept in a blanket with the cats on the floor.

Heated up supermarket chicken for dinner. Decorated the table. Wrapped a small present for Okaasan....a hand towel with a rose on it and a Christmas cookie. She opened the present and put it to one side on the table....I had to talk about it to get her to pick it up again and go thru the motions of talking about a present....and she thanked me sweetly. I think at some level she does know how much I do for her and appreciates it.

We talked about the cats. And roses. And the Santa candle decoration.

Then I came back upstairs to eat shortbread. And chocolate. Drank the plum brandy a student made.

Went to bed by 9pm knackered.

Such an exciting Christmas!

Dear Son? The bugger was  at a ski instructor's house for Christmas dinner. I saw pictures. Facebook.....I was invited too. But it was a 2 hour drive away and today - 26th - I had a 10 am lesson in the opposite direction. No chance. 

So. There you have it. 

A non-Facebook Christmas.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

A good deed...?

Hey! It's us!
Okaasan and Me.
Happy Christmas to readers and lurkers everywhere (specially the Russian spam-bots that I fear may be boosting this blog's viewing numbers).

Yesterday, a picture of happiness. Ladies having lunch together, downtown at Christmas. 

I had a rare morning free on a weekday and took Okaasan out to avoid the weekend crowds, and to go near the center of a city with a small chance of finding a parking space in late December.
We drove downtown  together chatting about this and that, and then this and that again...and again. FOUND a parking space near the department store and held hands to negotiate the icy streets and reach Okaasan's favorite soba noddle restaurant at 11.30 am for an early lunch.

After lunch we walked a few floors of the department store, and then outside to walk one block to Okaasan's favorite coffee shop, where the young staff actually remembered what she always orders (because she didn't!), and I settled her down with coffee, cake and a magazine at a window seat.
Then, I could escape to do some Christmas shopping for an hour.

Back at 2 pm to get her and she came happily. A little tired in the legs to get back to the parking area and endless "where are we going questions?" indicated that she was mentally tired too. But, back to the car and drove home.
All a success. Including a nice guilt-inducing photo of the lunch to Dear Son saying "Look. it's take YOUR mother to lunch day....dear...." He owes me. Always.

At home Okaasan seemed nicely animated again and even offered to wash up dirty dishes in the sink for me. She put on her apron and I thought she was going to do it...but 15 mins later when I passed thru the kitchen on my way to work....dirty plates in a pile and Okaasan in her apron settled in by the TV. 
Oh well. Never mind. The lunch was a success.

And then.....

I had lessons 3 pm to 9.30 pm.
Left food for Okaasan and cats. Did a long slog and at 9.50 pm came home with a bottle of Chardonnay crying my name from the upstairs fridge...exhausted.

Okaasan was in her room waving official looking papers at me and looking over-active....

My heart sank.
Chardonnay whimpered.

"What's this? Day service? It says here day service people come, something to do with me? They come? Dear Son pays money for this? Why? I don't need this. I go to Doutor coffee shop on my own. I went to Doutor coffee shop. I go out. The old lady across the road, she  doesn't go out. But I go out. What is this? Day service. Why???????"

Oh god help me.

I kept it together. Just. Level voice. Calm. Not angry.
Explained. Many times:
Winter. You can't go out. Dangerous. Dear Son working and away. Me working Monday to Friday. Sitting here for 5 days without exercise or meeting anyone is bad for your health. So day service come - you go with them to Seiyu for shopping. It's FUN! It's good for your health. December to March.

Well, almost calmly. I confess I had us both standing in the entrance hall with the front door open to the cold and snowy night to demonstrate: LOOK! Snow! Winter! Dangerous!

But. Mainly calmly and kindly.

We stood in front of the calender too where "DS" is marked on every Tuesday and Friday in December. "They came? here? This week? Last week? Here?" She had no memory of that.

So hard. She can't get it. Can't hold onto the ideas of "winter" - "danger" - "exercise" "health" - "go with someone" "we are working" - "day service lady".
Just can't. Trying to explain is so hard as she can't hold the ideas long enough to connect them.

Dear Son doesn't even try to explain. He just tells her: you do it. I decided.

It was lucky that she didn't start saying "Why do I need to go with day service? I can call a taxi myself and go!" - as she did last year, because that of course gets us into the tricky topic of her dementia-state and the fact that she doesn't have the self-motivation and drive to MAKE a decision like that anymore, to decide to do it and then carry out the necessary steps to order a taxi and be ready when it comes.

Dear Son's simple diktat is better?

I should probably do the same. But I try to be kind and explain. 

After 10 minutes of round and round, I managed to get the papers out of her hand and ended the conversation with : "Dear Son in home next week, talk to him about it".
And ran to my Chardonnay.

Not sure where she got the papers  from. Did they arrive in the mail and she opened it? It is the January schedule etc


I actually found myself wishing I hadn't taken her out at lunchtime and to her favorite coffee shop. It over-activated her, made her think about the coffee shop and downtown. Made her wonder WHY she needs day service. I know that is bad of me -  should be happy that she enjoyed the trip out and got mentally stimulated.
But a calm, docile Okaasan in front of the TV and coming to the kitchen table for feeding is easier to manage.

Anyway. I've got the day service papers away from her now. Hoping that today she has forgotten all of that. Hoping. day service will come tomorrow.

Friday, 16 December 2016

"Anything" on the table...

She ate it. The soil...and seeds...for the cat grass kit.....!!!


My fault because I left it on the kitchen table in the morning. I'd just found it in a little-used cupboard and thought: "ahh, good for winter, I should start growing cat grass for the cats again...."
But I'd left it on the table and in the rush to work forgotten it.

Also on the kitchen table - on the usual place mat where Okaasan sits - were a box of rice, another of simmered Japanese veggies, some salad on a plate, a pack of soup and a fish sausage. The usual lunch pickings for Okaasan to heat in the microwave and eat.

But the cat grass seeds and soil packs were 10 cm to the left.....

What did she think they were? I know Japanese food can look pretty odd. All the seaweed, fish and dried vegetable products. But they look odd to a non-Japanese person. To an old Japanese lady who has spent her life dealing with the stuff not so much.
I'm not sure WHAT she thought it was!

But food, for sure.

I got home between classes to prep dinner and as I chirped a greeting into Okaasan's room I noticed the two packets of brown-something on her kotatsu table. And then the bowls...

Bowls in two places - kitchen table and kotatsu. So she'd tried it in the kitchen, and found it strange, and then....forgetting that experience...a few minutes later - taken the package of stuff in another bowl into her room to taste as a Tv-watching snack!

Oh my God.

Well. She is still alive. I guess the seeds are just a kind of seed. If actually poisonous her body would be reacting by now...

So. Lesson learned. Must be very careful in future about what I leave on the kitchen table! I already know that if I want any chance of eating fruit or cookies myself, I should take some upstairs for later. Okaasan will often eat all of something over a day - all the oranges, all the cookies....far more than a non-dementia sufferer would eat.

But, until now I've never thought about the dangers of leaving a non-food item on the kitchen table.

And yes, there IS other food in the kitchen that she didn't eat. The fruit bowl was on a side counter and in the fridge were more fish sausages and some yogurts.

But Okaasan sampled the soil and seeds...

* Dear Son has left the building. Gone ski working. It was for 10 days, until Xmas. Then came the phone call last night....till December 30....sigh. Ski widow. 

Plus sides: TV remote 100% control! Computer wordgame time without guilt, even LESS housework....reading time.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Hate people who dress up animals. hate 'em....

Hi. Still here. Had a record breaking snowfall last weekend that wiped out Sapporo. 60 cm in 24 hours? 29 years record? Whatever. A whole lotta snow.

There is a blue car under that pile on the left.

I spent a lot of time snow clearing, and of course caught a cold. Spent Sunday wiped out and am just getting my energy back. Of course I worked, didn't take medicines and didn't go to the doctor - all things which amazed my Japanese friends and students. Us Brits, we are tough. And anyway - it's a head COLD! Not a life threatening condition. Stiff, chapped and sore upper lip - carry on chaps.

Good excuse to eat a lot. "Good for the cold".

Dear Son came back in time to take over snow clearing duties and cook a lot of food for the freezer - he really IS a catch of a Japanese man. He was home 4 days. And now gone again, till Christmas.

Okaasan is getting into the routine of the day care visits twice a week. A new helper is going to come, so there have been TWO women visiting - as the old passes the baton to the new, such as telling her the intricacies of our dirty kitchen. I came home on Friday night to find Okaasan sitting straightbacked at the kitchen table, with an untouched food box in front of her, and two women sitting opposite her :-) 

No fightback from her yet about this day care.
We'll see.

I saw a TV program about a family where the grandfather had moved homes to be nearer his son, but the whole move had upset his until-then mild dementia...and within a month he had plunged into far more confused state, which he never really moved out of again. The experts were discussing how people living with dementia are not good with change in their environment or routines - and how a very rigid routine in itself is sometimes a precursor of dementia because it demonstrates the need for people to find comfort in the same, same, same.

Okaasan's condition has worsened this summer. Her mental and communication, and her physical.

What changes? Nothing at home, that I can think of...well, we had the Injured Cat Crises which distracted DS and me for months.

Outside environment?
The new apartment building across the street, all summer. 8 am to 6 pm. Bang, bang construction sounds. Trucks and men.
Okaasan's fave supermarket Seiyu had a complete revamp, while still open. Every time you went the design and layout changed, as they revamped the store. It confused me. It must have confused her far more.The magazines, yogurt and fish paste sausages were gone...somewhere...

Whatever. Winter 2016 and Okaasan is further along in her confusions. Christmas and Japanese New Year we come.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Walking. Together.

So. New normal.

I took Okaasan for a walk.

She needed a little persuading to go out, but I reassured her that I knew which roads were icy and so she got herself together and we set out together on Sunday afternoon for a stroll round the local streets.

Awful balance problems. She seems to teeter along - like she is on tip toe all the time - almost ready to go off balance and into trouble. Her whole body appears to be forward all the time.

I grasped her hand and guided her firmly up the street and to the main road.

We walked/teetered. She grabbed onto walls and street lights, shop windows and signs. Kept stopping and looking up and down the street.

"Are you tired? Shall we take a break?"

"No, not a break. I am just looking and thinking where to go. ...."


And often really holding onto something, like a street pole, with both arms. Looked very odd.

But we walled. And stopped. And sat on walls and benches. 

No way could she walk to the Seiyu supermarket where she always used to go and I was wondering what to do when we got to the crossroads. We could come back by taxi, but I doubted she had the energy to GET there in the first place. 
At the corner she hesitated. Looked around. I made vague comments about the Japanese sweets shop and a cup of coffee in the other direction....and after a few minutes she came with me...almost willingly.

At the sweets shop almost fell INTO a basket of sweets on a rickety table outside the shop. Then bought some rice cakes. Back to the station, into the convenience store, toilet, magazine and finally.....agreed to let me lead her home.

Obviously exhausted.

She enjoyed telling me "this is what I always do, sit here, buy my magazine here, go to the toilet here, walk here"...and I let her instruct me. But I managed to make it a short enough walk an get her home again.

But. shocked really.

She used to walk so far alone, miles actually. For hours. Not now.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Signs of the future

It says "Toilet". It's on the kitchen door. And there are two others: on the door from Okaasan's room to the kitchen, and on the toilet door.

We hope that helps her. Helps her to FIND the toilet, helps her to remember that is why she stood up, helps her to remember that maybe she should go to the toilet.
All of that.

Our new norm.

I hope she will leave the signs in place. A year or two ago we tried to put  signs on her clothes drawers to help her find things, but she ripped them all down within 24 hours.

This week we did a family trip to the local city office to get our My Number ID cards. Japan has introduced these cards, which has everyone in the country befuddled as to their usage. So, everytime Okaasanb asked us: "Why am I here? What should I do?" we were as in the dark as she. Just waited for the counter staff to call us and exchange bits of paper for other bits of paper and card.

Day Service also started. Two hours on a Friday. Dear Son and I went out to dinner together to leave the care worker alone with Okaasan. Apparently she went out willingly.

He started ski work today. Next week more. I am about  to have crazy December of end of year parties and Christmas/New Year preparations....into winter HERE WE GO!