Friday, 31 December 2010

Never, EVER again. Osechi cooking.....

PLEASE. Next time. Next year.
I am a fool and I should know better. Far better.

Okaasan and I cooked for five and a half hours today. Five and a half hours.
Oh - with a short break for lunch and a quick trip to the supermarket.

It was hell. How I kept my smiley patience I can't say. Now I am drinking a nice Chardonnay and that is helping.

Here is what we made:

Seaweed rolls with radish and carrot inside, tied with gourd.

Umani - stewed root vegetables and chicken.

Sato imo - yams in half the sugar cane of a plantation.....

It was the blind leading the blind.
Okaasan couldn't remember what she was making. And I didn't know what she was making!
After over an hour of soaking and washing seaweed and cutting carrots and radish into tiny sticks, and washing and scrubbing dried gourd strips to tie ever so carefully round the slippery seaweed.....I realized she WASN'T making what I'd planned.....
So after 90 minutes I got her onto making the main event dish...and that stretched over lunch and beyond.

I really must never do this again.
Okaasan is beyond it. She can't remember what is inside the pan, so she constantly lifts the lid to look inside.
She can't remember whether she has seasoned something or not. She can't remember how long something has been cooking. She can't remember which is stock and which is water.
And on and on and on.

So much for my stupid "oh it will be so nice to have a shared cooking experience!".

And. Get the middle of the morning the delivery guy came with of traditional New Year foods that I'd ordered from the supermarket!!! I'd almost thought about cancelling it 2 days ago, but told myself it would be ok because: Okaasan is only going to make one thing.
That was then. Now I have a kitchen choca-block with stewed and sweetened, drowned in soy sauce stuff.
We may not have to cook until spring.

I finally brought it all to a close about 2.30 pm - Okaasan had wandered into her room and sat down in front of the TV. I grabbed the chance to silently and quickly finish everything up in the kitchen and pack it all away in the fridge before she could come and look at it all again.

She did wander through though: um...I didn't eat lunch did I? I'm hungry!
I reminded her that 2 hours before we'd sat at the kitchen table and eaten lunch together..she had no memory of that experience. So I heated up some old pizza for her and fled upstairs to fall into a stupor on the sofa with a kitten.

Never. Ever. Again.

A dementia sufferer and cooking

This is an amazing blog!

I just casted around on the net for cooking/dementia and came across this blog.

This lady Leah HAS dementia and is writing about the experience - here writing about what effort it takes to cook something.

Wonderful writing and a great peek into the demon that is short-term memory loss.

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Steady as she goes...

Tomorrow will be the big Osechi cook-off when I encourage Okaasan into the kitchen and see how much of what we bought she remembers how to cook...

Looking promising so far.

She is SO much better than this time last year, when I don't think she actually knew it WAS New Year until we served soba noodles for dinner and the Kohaku singing thing was on TV.

Today she went out - even took my endless advice and set out at 1 pm in actual daylight.

I finally managed to get into her room and clear out some of the laundry - return some of the cleaned stuff and generally hunt for anything disgusting, She had an accident in the toilet after we came back from shopping, but after a long time and a lot of toilet paper somehow managed to clean it up...but I couldn't find any soiled pants....

Slightly panic too tonight when I finished my final gym visit for 2010 (I can now do ALL the machines cos my leg is getting so much stronger) and I glanced at my cell phone to see EIGHT calls from Yujiro and one from Okaasan.
She'd come home from shopping, and couldn't find her front door key But after guidance from Yujiro, speaking by phone from the ski school where he'd just finished work, she found it in her bag and got into the house.

So tonight I cooked dinner for her and me and we talked about New Year's Eve and the TV singing show....and old singing stars. Okaasan is/was a feisty independent woman - she told me 6 or 8 times that there was an old enka singer she liked, but all her friends looked down enka - so she had bought a ticket and gone to the concert alone etc - and how the singer walked down the aisle just near her seat etc.

Then I brought in the pine and ornamental cabbage and red-berry plant that she'd bought and she set to cutting them and arranging them in a vase as a New Year decoration. I took down all the downstairs Xmas stuff today so Okaasan can set it all up as she likes.

So different from last year.

Anyway. Tomorrow. Gonna cook ourselves up a whole LOT of traditional New Year food!!!!!!

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Okaasan and Me - Girls' Shopping Trip.......

I did it!!!!!
She did it!!!
A supermarket in south Sapporo is Y8,000 better for it......
Yujiro will have kittens when he sees what she bought. Oh, he already HAS kittens.

The box of Osechi ingredients.....Y8,000 worth of stuff!

Here it is is. What Okaasan managed to snaffle up in the 40 minutes I let her roam almost at will around the posh supermarket in the southern suburbs. Like a magician who subtly directs the audience-assistant, I actually managed to stop her wandering down all the aisle in the middle of the shop and steered her round the edges - from vegetables, to fish paste, to fish, to noodles, and out via cheap ramen and sweet sake...with a brief detour to organic garlic...oh...and spinach!

Almost thought we weren't going 20 minutes before scheduled Lift-Off when Okaasan said she thought December 28 was a bit early to be New Year food shopping...and suggested going on December 31st instead. With about 1.9 million other Sapporo residents on the last minute panic before Year End.
I strongly said: No's today!!

And so we went. Just 20 minutes from the house. The big Tokou Store at Jeitai-mae, which has mounds of food from all over the world and nice helpful salespeople who apparently know the difference between this seaweed and that.

Okaasan LOVED it. As she took charge of the shopping trolley at the entrance her face lit up in a big smile and she switched into Super Housewife mode round the store. I followed carrying the box and dissuading her from a few purchases...and mentally calculating what it was all going to cost.

So we have: TWO packs of fish paste, pink and white (each costing over Y1,000 alone), then taro yams, radish, water lily tuber, carrots, herring roe, octopus, water chestnuts, soba, mushrooms, burdock root, ginkgo nuts, seaweed, sweet bean paste.....etc
Managed to stop her at lily bulbs and salmon and more fish paste.

She examined every single thing carefully, whether it was from Japan or not. Whether it was from Hokkaido or not. Whether the farmer had washed behind his ears or not...

And so. We are VERY set for the next week eating.
Mind you: I spent about Y10,000 on Christmas food and drink for me, so it's only fair that Okaasan's end of year festival is a celebration of food.
WHO is going to cook it all? Me and her tomorrow????

Anyway. Big success. We drove home and Okaasan chose ramen for lunch so I slid into a parking space at a branch of a local popular place and we sat companionably at the counter slurping noodles and pork slices together.
You don't have to talk much while eating ramen, and there are people behind you waiting - so it isn't a place to linger.

Okaasan...get THIS....even grabbed my arm twice to point out signed name boards by some famous person who'd been to the restaurant - a gesture which very surprised me, because it's the kind of thing you do to a girlfriend really...Japan isn't a touching society at all and Okaasan has never grabbed my arm before.

Amazing what a little shopping therapy will do!

Now I just have to face Yujiro will over Y8,000 worth of food. He is home tonight.....

Teaching your Okaasan to boil eggs.

Okaasan didn't make it out yesterday either. The third hula class she's missed now.
She tried (wet floor and about facing boots in the entrance hall) - but she came back again quickly.

I got home from last classes of 2010 at 4 pm to find her in the kitchen.
There was water in the bath - maybe she'd had one?
There were wet towels, pants and trousers on the bathroom floor and kitchen counter.
There were food packages, orange peel, dirty bowls, chopsticks, supermarket flyers etc around the kitchen.

And amid it all: Okaasan trying to boil an egg.
"I'm hungry! I didn't eat lunch. Did I?"

Yes, ... ate half the chilli tofu in this pan, and here is the rice bowl and here is the soup bowl...I left you food here this ate it...

She was standing in front of the electric cooker with the hob light flashing, but not actually ON. We bought this cooker because it cuts out if overheating or left unattended too long - but the switch ON button and the hub start dials pretty confound Okaasan. About 50% of the time she doesn't get it ON at all, and the other 50% of the time she has it ON too high and burns the pan.

So, as I chatted about icy roads and hula class and bad luck etc I sneaked in a hand and turned the hob on so the egg in the pan would start cooking...and I wondered how long she'd been standing in front of the cooker waiting for the water to heat and boil.
Quite often I've come home and found bits of boiled egg and egg shell floating in water in a pan...and I think Okaasan often fails to cook the boiled egg. Often she starts peeling the shell and discovers uncooked egg inside!
(Must talk to Yujiro about making a cooker operating sign for Okaasan).

I took my work bags upstairs - last classes of 2010!!! Free until January 6th!!!

Came down 10 minutes later.
Okaasan was standing in an almost dark kitchen, with a packet of salt on the table.
In one hand she was clutching the peeled, boiled egg - and the other hand was dipping into the bag of salt and smearing it on the egg. And eating it.
A very strange sight really. Like a child doing secret eating. Not at all like a respectable 80 year old Japanese lady. Standing eating and dipping a finger in a salt bag. I just put on the kitchen light and trotted on to the bathroom....thinking about dementia books and their comments about "return to childishness"....

So. Three hours later dinner and lots of lovely chat. Got Okaasan all laughing and chatty again.
She was fine a clock that needs rewinding to get the hands going round again.

I'm gonna do it.
Take her out shopping for New Year food ingredients!!!
THIS is my good deed to end 2010.

I chatted to Okaasan about osechi (New Year food), and asked her advice about it all. And then asked if she would be so kind as to escort me to the supermarket today to help me buy the best/correct food. She jumped at the chance. Poor woman hasn't been out since last Friday.

I'll take her to the up-scale supermarket two subway stops south of here, where comfortably-off suburban housewives shop, it must have good quality vegetables and stuff. Okaasan has very high standards. Then we'll do lunch on the way home.
Should be a good outing for her. Some exercise round a big supermarket and the mental stimulation of choosing foods, people, lights...action.

To be honest: I haven't done many Okaasan and Me alone outings in the 2 years she's lived with us.
Partially because I've been all wrapped up/exhausted/stressed with my own life problems and on my non-working time I have no more energy or will to do extra with her.
And also I always have a bit of a fear about too much time alone with Okaasan. Like - what will I actually TALK about? Is my Japanese language ability up to a concentrated time alone with her?

But now. I think I can. I know I should. And I think I have the energy/patience/determination to try.

Let's see how it goes: Okaasan and Me go for Shopping and Lunch.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Stockholm Syndrome?

IpsychologyStockholm syndrome is a term used to describe a paradoxical psychological phenomenon wherein hostages express adulation and have positive feelings towards their captors that appear irrational in light of the danger or risk endured by the victims, essentially mistaking a lack of abuse from their captors as an act of kindness.

I think I am getting it.
Or Okaasan is.
Or both of us.
Forced to spend days and days alone with eachother in this house.
She relies on me for conversation and food.
I rely on her for....what?

But something is a-changing in our relationship.
Like: we are actually HAVING a relationship.

Since the Whiskey Bonbon Giving in the Kitchen yesterday we have enjoyed a chatty and laughing lunch of Christmas leftovers, giggled about the cats with their pink noses from the cold...and shared more chat over Nagoya miso oden...
I kindly offered to take Okaasan to the local shops in the car (after she set out at 4.20 pm for a walk and only got 3, icy-sheet meters beyond the garden fence) and she gave me miracle cream that will heal my cat scratched finger. AND she washed all the dishes after dinner because of my finger.

All in all very good.

Of course now I am on holidays (well, apart from 2 classes and a student lunch today), so I am more relaxed and kind. And her focus is, by necessity, switched from Yujiro to me. When I was in hospital for 10 days in September, and then in England in October our fatcat Popo did the same with Yujiro, he had to overcome his usual barely controlled terror and relate to the person who opened the cans.

Now Okaasan and Me.

We are doing ok with eachother. Doing well, actually. 

I feel sorry that she can't get out though. The roads in Sapporo are worthy of ice-dancers. Yesterday I went to the homecare center and bought three bags of calcium and gravel to spread on the road outside the house, and from the front door to the road.
But it is FAR too dangerous for Okaasan. Yesterday she got all dressed up, I heard the front door open....and from the window I saw her venture out beyond the fence to the road...and then scuttle back inside. She went out on Friday for 2 it is Monday. 

Today is the last-class-of-the-year for hula dance, but I don't think she can make it.
I'll try and take Okaasan OUT for dinner tonight - just so she can get out of the house and see a different view.

 Or....and this shows how mellow I am becoming ...I wondered about ASKING her to come with me to the supermarket and help poor-me choose the correct fish paste for New Year food.....going to a supermarket will take ages, because she will want to go round and round checking the same things and trying to put them in the shopping trolley...but...but...she WOULD enjoy it.... kind am I in reality?

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Christmas for ME!!!!

Had myself a VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Fed Okaasan lunch, ordered in sushi for her dinner. She didn't go out...I think.
Minimum duties done.

and then.

Opened presents round the rubber plant tree in my pyjamas with Heather.
Drank chai.
Watched the Muppet Christmas Carol (in Japanese) on TV.
Watched Love Actually director's documentary and extras.
Ate chocolate Christmas cake for lunch.
Got all dressed up.
Had my hair cut.
Met the ladies downtown...for....
Cocktails in a bar.
HUGE Hokkaido course dinner in a private room at Aburiya.
Wonderful adult conversations about Life and the Universe.
Saw the winter lights of Odori Park.
Walked 3 blocks in the freeeeezing cold to Big Echo karaoke.
Sang ourselves stupid.
Taxi home at 2 am.
Managed to resist the Fruit and Nut mammoth bar of chocolate under the rubber plant.

Forgot all this year's stuff: feeding an old lady, knee, hospitals, melon monsters, funerals, house clearing......

Had myself a Very Merry Christmas.

But now in gently recovery and moving away from the computer.
Nearer the chocolate bar.

I just went downstairs to get toast and Marmite for breakfast.
Okaasan shuffled out of the toilet and said good morning.
"Amanda-san...neh...I forgot to give you this. I found it. There wasn't a Christmas tree, so I didn't know where to put it. I just found it. This is for you....I'm sorry it's late, and there was no Christmas tree, so I didn't give it to you.....I just found it."

I think I select Love Actually director Richard Curtis to make the movie of Okaasan and Me.
This scene in the kitchen, with Okaasan and I both in our pajamas on the morning after Christmas.
And a bag of whiskey-filled chocolates.
Ohhhhhhh!!!!! Ahhhhhhh!!!!
I feel quite teary. And I'm IN the scene.

Thankyou Okaasan.

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Kurisumasu for Okaasan.

THIS is Kurisumasu - Japanese style!
All over Japan on December 24th people line up in Kentucky Fried Chicken and buy party boxes of fried and roast chicken to take home and eat with the family.
Usually followed by a sponge cake, covered in cream and strawberries.

Last night I did Kurisumasu for Okaasan - with my friend Heather (Uni Spagetti blogger revealed!).

At 6.15 pm I went to the local KFC to collect my ordered box dinner - and the second floor area had been cleared so that staff could hand out Kurisumasu to all-comers. They said there was a maximum of FIFTY orders for every hour. 4 pm, 5 pm, 6 pm, 7 pm 8 pm....on December 23, 24 and 25th.

Then home with Heather to heat up some spuds and garlic, make a salad, heat the soup - and get Okaasan to the table. AND heat the mulled wine!
The three of us sat down to Kurisumas dinner.
It was relaxing and easy and went off fine. Okaaasn knows Heather enough now to not get all foreigner-nervous. Heather speaks enough Japanese to help me keep the conversation going and Okaasan likes KFC and spuds...and wine.
It's moments like this that Okaasan seems so normal. Her conversation was a little repetitive and she was a bit quiet at the start of dinner. But the mulled wine relaxed her and soon she was chatting on about KFC's first shop in Japan at Nihonbashi in Tokyo...and we did a few loops of weather and winter driving and tourists from Asian countries...and wartime and meat...and dipped into New Year food and Scottish New Year I feel she enjoyed it and yet another Positive Experience was notched up on the Caring for Okaasan life.

And then: Heather and I retreated upstairs to our Christmas Eve!

 Mulled wine and soppy movie....ohh!!!! Liam Neeson's reallife wife did die and leave him with small children!!!

Christmas pudding - thankyou Sachiko and Toshihiko! rubber plant in disguise as a Christmas Tree...safer for the cats....

Friday, 24 December 2010

Cabin fever

Okaasan hasn't been out for 4 days now - I detect signs of cabin fever.
She was wandering around her rooms and the kitchen a lot yesterday afternoon. Went to peer outside the front door a few times.
Sadly Sapporo had non-stop snow ....big white fluffy flakes of it for hours and hours.

I fed Okaasan lunch: fried tofu, pumpkin, soup, rice, pickles.
I fed Okaasan dinner: hot pot of tofu, chicken balls, veggies.
Chatted along merrily about weather/wartime/food/cooking/wartime/cooking lessons/naming babies/Christmas.

Okaasan gets much more talking time when she is just with me. I guess it is good for her. Yujiro talks into infinity - but I can't do that (and certainly NOT in Japanese!), so my style is to ask leading questions that I hope will get Okaasan into one of her pet topics...then to just supply the polite "oos" and "ahhs" as she goes round and round with the story for a while.

Today is Christmas Eve. I hope the weather is slightly better and Okaasan will make it outside.

And Uni Spagetti-chan is coming to stay tonight! I've ordered KFC chicken - which is what most Japanese people associate with Christmas and we'll eat that with Okaasan - and then escape upstairs to mulled wine, cheese, TV....and open our pressies together tomorrow morning.

I am SO happy she is here for the holidays. I'm sad that she's got a job back in the Uk and will be leaving in January, but it's great that she thus cancelled her planned Xmas trip and is here to make the holidays happy.

*On a sadder note: one of my Japanese-sisters has lost her Dad this week, and the funeral is tonight. Of course Christmas Eve in Japan is just another ordinary day, and my friend isn't Christian. But even so - for ever after Christmas Eve will hold such sad memories for her.
When I first came to Japan I shared apartments with 3 Japanese woman and we call eachother sisters. I don't think Naoko reads this blog - she is always too busy working and travelling to work - but she is in my mind a lot.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Quality time

Lilly bulbs....again.

"Quality time" is usually what couples try to give eachother or busy parents try to give their kids.
Yesterday I gave it to Okaasan.
Three nights eating dinner alone, two lunches left on the table.
I thought it was time for some Oyomesan/Okaasan face time.

I cooked lunch: fried potato and cabbage, rice, soup, pickles, bits of fish.
I cooked dinner: grilled herring, rice, vegetable soup, pickles, apple.

I chatted and chatted and chatted. And listened and listened.
Someone gave me oranges from Wakayama - so Okaasan endlessly tells me the story of a woman she knew from Wakayama.
Fried potato and cabbage is a dish that Okaasan's Okaasan (who lived in Sapporo once upon a time) Okaasan likes it and loves to tell the story about how friends in mainland Japan were amazed to see it in her lunchbox.
And for some reason she also got into the American soldier who ejected from his plane over Kawagoe during the war and everyone rushed out to see him. And the boss of the factory where she worked spoke some English because he had studied in the US, and HE was called for to talk English to this American serviceman.

So. All in all a good day. She didn't go out again. But she washed a few pants and left them to gather mold in a wash bowl near the heater. I've seen about 20 pairs on the dirty laundry box in her room - but I can't get to them until she goes out.

All was ok.

Last thing at night I went to the toilet just before bed.
Sat down on the toilet seat: hmm...strange smell...
Looked down.
Shit on the toilet mat.
Oh yuk yuk yuk.
The edge of the toilet mat was covered in it...gross, gross gross....

This double incontinence is very yuk.
Pee in pants is ok. Just throw it in the washing machine and wash my hands.
Shit on pants, mats, towels....

yuk. yuk. yuk.

No WAY can I talk to her about this.
She must feel stressed about doing it too. And then she hides the soiled things in her room. And forgets about them.
I wonder to put a trash box with a plastic bag in the toilet. Mark it with a large sign...hope that she starts to put soiled pants in it? Public toilets have trash bins for tampons etc...if I put something in the toilet do you think she would start using it?

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Ice and Fire

3.15 pm - I get home from work. Okaasan tucked up under the heated table safely.
"Brr! It's very icy now! The road is dangerous!"
"Really? I haven't been out. I don't know."

4 pm - I come into the kitchen to think about prepping Okaasan's dinner so I can leave the house about 5 pm.
Okaasan is up and getting ready to go OUT!
"Um, it's very icy now. The middle of the day was ok, but now is getting late and icy."
"Really? But I have the walking stick! I'm ok!" 
Shouldn't have given her the stick - makes her all confident...
"Err....the road outside the house is all frozen into icy's dangerous. I have the last work-party tonight so I am going to make some dinner for you."
"Dinner? I'm going out! I can eat something out, it's easier...." ;-(

And so. At 4.10 pm she picked her way down the icy street. Where the ice waves lay in 2 inch high ridges in all directions. Lethal.
I clear up her lunch stuff, take stuff out of the washing machine, e-mail Yujiro to tell him to keep in phone contact with her.

We agree that she could come home by taxi and I leave money in the entrance hall for her. I also pop over the road and ask our neighbor to leave her outside light on, so at least the ice waves are illuminated. As a last thought I leave some cooked tofu on the kitchen counter with a pan, in case the eating-dinner-out plan slips through the memory cracks.

And I leave. Fearful.
80 year old with balance problem on ice.

No way at all to stop her. She wants to go. She thinks she can. So she goes.
This going out late in the afternoon is an absolute routine. She sits there in the living room watching TV as outside is glorious, sunny weather with ice melting and people enjoying a nice day.
And at 3.30...4 pm...when most housewives/retired people are thinking about heading home - Okaasan sets out.
Yujiro says this is an ingrained habit from her last few years in Saitama, when she didn't cook for herself - so she went out late afternoon (after the heat of the day) and had a bit of dinner somewhere.
Fine in Saitama (the Tokyo suburbs) where "cold" is about 15 degrees - not so good up in the northcountry where it is dark at 4 pm and minus 5.

5.15 pm I went off by train to my last work-related party of the year.
Got to the restaurant at 6 pm....Yujiro called me: Okaasan had just got home.
BIG relief.

10.30 pm I get home and tip-toe into the kitchen......
A familiar smell wafts around.
Burned saucepan.
Okaasan is asleep in her room with the TV blaring and in the kitchen are the remains of her cooking attempts: she put some cooked rice in the same pan with the tofu...boiled it all together...and burned the pan. Ate it. Maybe some soup too. A yogurt.

Big relief. Burned pan is fine. Burned kitchen bad.

And on the kitchen table?
Lilly bulbs. Yurine in Japanese.
Long-term readers of this blog will know my experiences with this traditional Japanese vegetable. Two years ago Okaasan bought lots of them. Constantly.
There is actually very little you can do with them apart from traditional savory, egg custard. I tried a few things like salad too. They have no taste. Just pasty.
Finally I planted them in the garden and beautiful lilly flowers came up.

So. Instead of buying dinner out last night - Okaasan inevitably ended up in the supermarket...which is bursting with seasonal foods. And so she bought lillybulbs.

Savory egg custard recipes on the Internet. Here I come!

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Fed and communicated (a bit)

That's about all I did with Okaasan yesterday because it was a busy working day.

I cooked some lunch for her before work and put it out in the kitchen for her - tofu/ soup/rice/veggies. Chatted for about 30 seconds at the door of her room.

I came back mid-afternoon and washed up her lunch stuff and then prepped dinner for her - raw squid/soup/rice/veggies/pickles. Chatted for about 1 minute at the door of her room.

Came back about 8 pm and washed up her dinner stuff. She was asleep. I turned down the TV sound and left her to sleep.

She didn't go to hula today because she said it was raining. So 2 weeks now she didn't go.

I was talking to a student last night about Okaasan's strange walking style...she mentioned Parkinson's I scared myself looking at THAT on the web a bit.

Anyway. More of the same today.
I have morning classes downtown.
Then afternoon class in the suburbs.
Then I'll drive home mid-afternoon to prep dinner and feed the cats.
Then go BACK out to the suburbs for a dinner and karaoke with a class.
Gonna be a loong day.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Doing okaaay......

Okaasan management ok for another day.

I had lunch with her in the kitchen - lots of Japanese stuff for her, salad, apple and cheese for me. She chatted on merrily about how I shouldn't worry about cooking and eating Japanese food because it isn't the food I ate when I was a child....which is sweet of her...but somehow I don't reckon a bowl of salad and some garlicy cheese would be her idea of lunch!

I got her to bundle up some old newspapers in the afternoon for recycling. She gets quite breathless doing this - but I reckon it is good exercise for her fingers.

***I ALMOST made a HUGE mistake with returning cleaning underwear into her room.....I thought she was in the toilet, so I opened the sliding doors of her room and hurled about 6 pairs of pants onto the mountain of clothes on the sofa.
3 minutes later Okaasan's head popped up from the space between the table and the sofa! She had been laying there all the time!!!
Luckily, luckily, luckily she didn't actually see me hurling her pants back onto the sofa......maybe she just heard the door slide shut.
This taking dirty underwear, washing it, drying it and returning it is all done surreptitiously...if she ever found me with her underwear I think there'd be a meltdown.

Mid-afternoon Okaasan got ready to go for a walk.
And success! I gave her the hiking, walking stick a friend gave me for my bad leg. It has a spike on the end. Ideal for ice. And she took it gratefully...saying she used to have something like it when she traveled abroad etc. GREAT. And she set out using it.

In the evening I had the Christmas potluck party of the Hokkaido branch of the Japan Association of Language Teachers at the Hokkaido International School. I took along a friend and her son too and we all ate far far too much turkey and veggies and desserts.
I used to be very active in JALT a long time ago when life was simple. Now I just go to the party once a year to catch up with people and eat.

I set out food for Okaasan on the table. Put croquettes on the toaster oven tray and left the oven door open so she could understand how to do it. Cooked a fresh batch of rice, left instant soup, some broccoli and pickles.

Came home at 7.15 pm from the party...and found she'd come home in one piece, eaten dinner, hadn't burned the house down and was safely tucked into the kotatsu with the TV.

Another day done.

I have an evening class tonight and a Year End party tomorrow, so Okaasan will have 3 nights of dinner alone - but it can't be helped. After that I'm on winter holidays and she'll get more attention.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Yo ho HO!



If I wear this every day for the next week will Okaasan be full of Christmas cheer?
Maybe ;-)

I visited another teacher's class yesterday to surprise two of my former students - aged 6 and 7. I hid in the side room and when she said: "Can you hear something? Can you hear bells?!" - I yo-ho-hoed into the classroom much to their amazement.
Of course they knew it was me...the beard and hat can't disguise that Queen's English - but they played along with it all until imminent suffocation forced Santa to de-beard.

All good fun. What Christmas is all about etc. Sweet to see their faces.

But the extra class visit pushed back my schedule for Saturday, so I got home after 7 pm - still in Santa pants and hat - and flung dinner together.
Heated the curry, rice, dressed up supermarket salad, pickles etc - got it all on the table in 15 minutes flat.
Okaasan enjoyed the costume, I tried to chat and chat about stuff. Yujiro does this (with no effort because as a Japanese male he is hardwired to go on and on and on), but I'm not so good.
But I hope that if I chat she will actually eat and give responses. If I prompt her into Memory Lane stories, it's all great for her brain, but then she waves the chopsticks around and doesn't actually EAT. Dinner goes on for ever.

So. All was well. I got out by 8 pm and finally relaxed at the end of a working week with a mug of mulled wine (Thank-you Sachiko!!).

So. Here we go.
Winter holidays with Okaasan.

She seems ok with it so far - even telling me last night: "Tomorrow you have work? (no it's Sunday), have work...don't worry about me, I don't eat in the morning, so just relax".
She asked me for some money in case she ventures out.
She came out and said "Good morning" in the kitchen just now.

Starting good.
It may all end in anger and tears and accusations.
But we are starting well!

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Home for the Holidays....

About to start my Winter Holidays with Okaasan.

Well, I actually start holidays next Wednesday....with a couple of classes slipping under the tinsel on Dec. 27th - but almost there.

And almost out the door: Yujiro gone ski working in Niseko for 11 days...or more.

So. Okaasan and Oyomesan! LOTS of bonding time!!!!

Yujiro's just gave me Okaasan's Health Insurance card. In case she falls again and injures herself.

She was ok after the fall the other day. SO lucky.
She didn't go out much after that. Stayed home and safe and warm. We put a much brighter bulb in the outside light and hope that will make it safer for her.
Yesterday she did venture into the winter dangerland....finally came home at 7.30 pm. Yujiro went out to meet her and he was shocked to see her walking style: he says she looks like a toddler, kind of running, pitching forward, unable to wonder she falls and often comes home looking breathless.

Why do old people do this? I've seen it with other people. They are sort of out of control, start going at a trot and it gets faster and faster. I wonder if a stick would help. Whether she would be offended by the even the suggestion...although she sometime uses her umbrella as a stick and I don't think she could cope with a stick and an umbrella...and the various bags she always carries.

Apart from that normal life. Our normal anyway.

*  Okaasan burned the pan I left her lunch curry in - she isn't good at all at judging or controlling the heat. Luckily we bought an electric cooker that switches off automatically if the heat gets too high, or if nothing happens for an hour.
*  Okaasan mysteriously used the towel in the toilet for something...then washed it and left it wet on the bathroom floor...THEN cheerfully told us a few hours later: "Do you know there's no towel in the toilet?" I'm just glad she left it in the bathroom and it didn't fester, soiled in her room.
* I rescued some more underwear from her room - and returned some clean...scattering them at different points so she can come across them everywhere.

And so. Heading into the holidays...with Okaasan.
Actually I am happy to be here. So happy to have nice normal, boring time at home.
A few friends/old students are visiting. I have to help a friend prepare and pack for a move back to the UK, eat a lot, watch TV.....and maybe,...just maybe try my leg on a ski slope?????

I just hope Okaasan doesn't fall again and that she stays fairly level emotionally. If she doesn't go out much her mood can go down. I think I will need to take her out in the car to a shopping mall for lunch or something.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Another fall...

Okaasan fell down again last night on the front door steps.
She's ok. Probably will have a bump and a bruise on her head...which thankfully was cms away from the cement top step as she lay face down on the softer non-slip mat on Step 2.

Oh! But it was scary!
Happened right in front of me.

I'd just got home from work in the car, and as I opened the car door I realized Okaasan was tottering up the street in the first flurries of snow.
She veered across the lawn and kind of staggered against the garden tap metal stand. I closed the car door again and waved her through the gap between the car and the house - and as she staggered off to the front door I started gathering my bags from the passenger seat.
Looked up - and WHAM!
Okaasan got to the bottom of the steps - rocked to both sides off balance - and fell flat on her face up the steps.

Major panic. Me jumping from the car. Okaasan groaning: "I was late, I was hurrying!", I rang the door bell, Yujiro comes running out, he manages to hoist her upright and after a few minutes she is standing again - apparently not injured. But very shaken.

And then she decided she shouldn't have any we had to eat our way through ramen made for three while she retreated to the heated table and the TV.

Aghhh.!  (that "aghh!" is just for Usui-san, Tamiko and Takako who say I use this phrase a lot...).

By coincidence Yujiro was only saying to me yesterday morning that Okaasan recently has no power at all in her arms etc. And I was saying we MUST make sure she gets out and walks at least every 3 days - even if we drive her to a shopping mall and let her run around inside.

The weather was bad recently and she has stayed home more. She didn't want to go to hula dance on Monday, despite Yujiro offering her a ride in the car as he headed to a movie theater.
So she has sat around at home and her leg muscles are probably weaker.

Yikes. That fall was scary, but hopefully ok.
Our front door steps are set at a strange angle and end abruptly in a  flower bed and rough ground. Really you have to go up two steps and then slightly turn...but I think Okaasan doesn't do that. She kind of launches herself from the flowerbed side.

Apart from that: all is well, but busy time. Last classes, end of year parties, Yujiro getting ready for ski season start, helping a friend start packing for her return to the UK.....
Onwards to Christmas!

Friday, 10 December 2010

Counting your dementia blessings....

Life ain't all bad.
In the spirit of the coming season I realized this week that the situation we have here with Okaasan isn't so bad. At all. Yet.

I know I whinge and whine. But.

Two stories from friends this week reminded me to count my dementia blessings:

The father of a friend in the UK died in hospital, which she said herself  was a merciful release. I think he had dementia with Lewy bodies - which really effects the whole physical ability of walking and so on. He didn't recognise his own daughter anymore and she felt as though her father had "died" more than a few years ago.
B and his wife were good friends with my mother and when I was a kid I can remember them all having parties and being cool adults together.
He's been on my mind a lot this week as I remember the tall, handsome, sociable guy he was. I feel for my friend.

And then last night I went to dinner and movie (Leonie) with an old student/friend. HER father has gone dramatically into a form of dementia which the doctor think is the result of far, far too much alcohol over a lifetime. He can't walk far, he can't remember things, he gets into rages...his wife and daughters are steering him into the bath. He's eating loads because he doesn't remember eating. They are currently doing the whole hospital-visits-brain-scans thing.
My friend looked exhausted and stressed.

So. I have an old lady at home who sits and watches TV all day. Goes for walks. Feeds herself. Washes herself. Tells the same stories a lot. Doesn't wash underwear. Doesn't clean her room. Buys random stuff.

And I have a man who shops and cooks for her 90% of the time.

Am counting all my little dementia blessings RIGHT now!

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Taking advice......


That old: older person advising younger person stuff again.


What to do? I am actually asking you lot for advice on this one.

We had family lunch - a cold, grey winter day...all of us in our pajamas....eating a feast of leftovers. All went well.

Afterwards I stood up to blanch a kilogram of green beans I'd bought at Costco - blanch and bung them in the freezer in bags for later. You know the idea.

I washed them, grabbed a handful, lined their ends up on the chopping board and chopped off the points. Reversed them, lined 'em up and chopped.

2 minutes passed...I could feel Okaasan watching this from the table.
Finally she jumped up and came over tutting..."No! In Japan we do it like this, you don't use a knife because you cut off too much and waste it, use your fingers, like this...and this...!"


LUCKILY Yujiro had foreseen this acoming and gently eased her back with some phrase or other...and she went back to sitting behind me...watching while I used the knife and wasted - OH NO...centimeters and centimeters of bean. Kids are starving in North Korea and I am wasting a total of 8 cm of bean ends.

Sadly Yujiro then compounded the situation by commenting on the way I poured the boiling bean water down the sink directly...and then Okaasan jumped back in 5 minutes later by telling me that it is better to leave the lunch dishes air drying instead of using a cloth.

Oh my GOD! What IS it with these people?????
I'm almost 50 years old. This is MY home, MY kitchen...I will actually do these things the way I LIKE!

Yujiro is ok. I can just tell him - and often do - to FUCK OFF.
But I can't do that with Okaasan.
I'd LOVE to turn round and say: look - your room is a smelly mess with rotting food and soiled underpants all over it and this week I've wiped your shit off the toilet  so lay off the helpful advice will you???? But I can't.

What does anyone suggest?
Some nice gentle, but firm way of saying: Ahh, thankyou, but actually you way and my way may be different. Neither is wrong or right. It's just different thankyou.

She is doing what comes naturally to her, and older woman in Japan with a younger family member - dishing out the helpful advice so they learn.
But to me it just is plain strange. If I ask for advice that is clearly different - but I'm an adult, not a child. Telling an adult how to top and tail beans is beyond belief.

Yujiro was no help at all. I asked him what I should say. His advice? "Don't do stuff in front of her like that!"

Fat lot of help that is.

Any other Oyomesans out there in blog-land got any advice? SEE! I DO ask for advice sometimes!!

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Tribute to my Dad.

Christmas cards and reconnecting with people...
I opened a Christmas card yesterday from a couple in the village where my Dad lived. They included a cutting from Dad's old newspaper The Daily Mirror.....of course living here in Japan I hadn't seen this.

In his will Dad had left 200 pounds to the photographers on The Daily Mirror - to go out and have a drink on him. More than a year after he died the solicitor has all but finished sorting out his estate etc and in November I was able to send the money and a photo album to the Mirror.

And this was in the paper back in November! Made me cry....

Ahhhh.....strangely enough I am just writing to the solicitor this week about changing MY will (so my 18 year old godson doesn't get stupid money if I die tomorrow), and now I am wondering whether I should include this kind of bequest!
Dad worked for the Mirror almost all his working life, I've worked for about 5 different companies - so I don't have a strong bond to any group of colleagues really....hmmm....

Here at home: all well. Okaasan under control. We spent a quiet weekend at home, fed Okaasan her kind of food for lunch...and ate spaghetti bollangese ourselves two hours later...then Family Dinner in the evening. Okaasan went out walking and Yujiro and I managed to swoop into her room together and do some cleaning - 40 pairs of pants, trash, newspapers, a wet towel in a bag from the onsen trip a week ago....usual stuff. Some of the pants were very soiled, and the toilet seat too.....all in a day's work for Oyomesan.
I took some of the random food purchases into classes and gave them to students who do traditional cooking - the kilogram of sweetbean paste and the powdered soybeans....Okaasan buys this kind of stuff sometimes and of course never ever uses it. WE aren't going to use it it found new homes.
One student told me her grandmother used to buy spinach endlessly - and hide it in closets and drawers in her bedroom! The family was always on spinach hunts.
We are so lucky it is only bits of bread, rice crackers and dried stuff!!

Christmas Night: All or nothing. Thankfully ALL! From being a Sad Little Oyomesan with No Family and Friends for Christmas Night...I now have FIVE friends who are going to come and have dinner with me in the swanky restaurant on December 25th!
It really WILL be a Happy Christmas.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Two Years of Okaasan and Me.

We made it! This far!
Two years ago I was living the easy life with my Japanese guy and cat.
Skiing, walking, cheese fondues and non-responsible life.

And then it all changed.
We became responsible parents for his mother!

I know many people have joined this blog over the past 2 years, so here is the easy link to how it all started:

Today is the first Friday in December. Tokiko came for her lesson at my English classroom. Two years ago she came for her lesson  - and then came back with a present of sushi for me because I was heading home to make the first Family Dinner because Yujiro brought Okaasan up from Saitama to live with us here in Sapporo.

There have been many, many low points. But, generally...we HAVE made a good new life for ourselves and Okaasan. Her life is much better now than all alone in the trash and confusion of her house in Saitama. I think if she had stayed there alone, her dementia would have got much worse in 2 years. We have kept her - mainly - on positive life experiences.
Our life as a couple has changed a lot. We have to plan so much more and we have to share the responsibilities.
 And we eat a LOT of tofu.

Lowest point? Of course, December last year when Okaasan accused me of stealing her magazine etc and then Yujiro got angry with her and hit her. And I walked out. After 4 or 5 days I agreed to come home IF he would seek outside help and advice. And we went to see a dementia doctor...without Okaasan. That talk helped us a lot.
And of course MY life over the past 2 years hasn't been great with all my family in England dramas and then my own health...not to mention our dear old cat dieing finally.

So. Even without Okaasan 2008, 2009 and 2010 would have been humdingers of years.

How IS Okaasan?
Good, generally.
But we have noticed that her daily life has changed a little from even 1 year ago.
She doesn't do so much personal handwashing...underwear.
She doesn't walk so far anymore - mostly just very locally.
Increasingly she isn't so good at using the microwave, the stove, the heater etc
She eats LOADS, probably because she forgets that she has already eaten. So she is putting on weight, which isn't good for old legs.
Her conversations can be VERY hamster-wheely without the support of Yujiro chatting on and on.
The paranoia/fear/suspicions can come back easily - all the stuff about the hula dance group and their events and the new dances.
She has the absolutely fixed routines - the walk to Seiyu supermarket and Macdonalds.
We can probably leave her alone for one night, or maybe two - if we telephone to check she is ok and remembering to eat etc - but we are pretty sure she couldn't be alone for longer because she can't cook much and her mood goes down quickly if she doesn't have chat with someone.

And so. And so.

I am SO happy we moved to a larger house with Okaasan on a different floor from our living space. THAT was a very important thing to have done. Once we are upstairs we have absolute privacy. Vital.

Yujiro does so much. He does 90% of the cooking....and a lot of the shopping too.
My duties are gathering the dirty underwear, doing sneaky cleaning and thinking of nice, warm, fuzzy Family Events/Outings.

Am I happy with this life?
I look forward to a time when it will be different. When Okaasan has died or is in a carehome/hospital.
I'd like selfish life back. Life with this old lady is pretty boring.
It might be 5 years or more. I just have to be patient.
She is physically healthy, now.
But that could quickly change.
And many people who've lived with dementia sufferers seem to say 3 years to 5 years as a span or when the condition worsens.
So, we'll see. I'm hanging out for another 5 years of this...I don't think (hope!) it will be more!!!!

Forthcoming Attractions?
I am going to spend CHRISTMAS AND NEW YEAR with Okaasan!
Just the two of us.
He will be off ski teaching in Niseko December 22 to January 1 or 2.
So I have ordered the Kentucky Fried Chicken to eat ith Okaasan on December 24th.
I have got the Japanese New Year Food Box Sets leaflet from the supermarket - and I will be ordering in some O-Shogatsu Cheer.

IF I'm a really good Oyomesan I will encourage Okaasan to show me how to cook some New Year food, and we will spend a few happy/confused hours in the kitchen together peeling vegetables and looking for the soy sauce bottle with her.
That's if I'm feeling good.

If not. I'll buy it from the supermarket and hope to get through dinners over the holiday period as quickly as possible and get back upstairs to the winebox, TV and cats.

Two years as daughter-in-law to a Japanese old lady with developing dementia........


Thursday, 2 December 2010

Happy Birthday Kittens!

One year old today.
Chichi and Popo.
Bring us so much joy...and noise..and laughs...and furry love.

And a video of braving the snow......SO CUTE!!!!