Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Memory and Emotion

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

Here is what she wrote:

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

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

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

My thoughts....

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fear of the guilty.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Saturday, 26 November 2011

All clear...down there...

Got the letter from the hospital: my big intestine is cancer free! Maybe (I read that this shit test doesn't have such great accuracy, but I'll take it as a good thing for now...).

So, that's ok then.

I won't be spending my Christmas season in a cancer scare....

Meanwhile...we are waiting for Okaasan to come home and tracking her movements on the cell phone GPS. She is downtown and wandering to....and fro...and to...and fro....she doesn't go downtown alone so much these days, so this is a rarity.
We are wondering how much longer to leave her there...before calling her to come home for dinner.

Middle-aged. Really?

How did THAT happen?

That ski bum boy I fell for....just turned 53 years old.
And the sliver of cake in the Italian restaurant was too small to get any more than 4 candles on it!

He and I left sushi for Okaasan (she must come to hate sushi dinners cos she knows she is eating alone), and we slipped away downtown with our Groupon vouchers for a Y5,000 course dinner for 50% price. We are a very cheap couple.

In the morning I jokingly reminded Okaasan that it WAS her son's birthday, and thanked her profusely for creating such a wonderful guy....joke joke. She enjoyed that conversation...but  when he mentioned it again to her at lunchtime...she'd already forgotten it.

Was it only 3 years ago that I whisked him away to India on a surprise holiday? And we came back....and moved his mother in to live with us? Seems a million years ago. SO much has happened. Life has changed. Both of us became middle-aged and (almost) responsible...elderly care, sickness, death, lawyers, tax advisers, funerals....a lot of life.

Last night I started in on the Christmas cards. I'm using a bag of cards that I took from Dad and Jane's house a year ago, and they arrived here in Japan in my boxes of stuff earlier this year.
So, it was a little strange to be sitting down and sorting through Jane's Christmas card selection. Cards that she'd bought and kept...cards she'd bought with ME in mind. Talk about poignant. Apart from me, there is one other cat-lover in her family - niece Anna - so I know all the cards with cat pictures were bought to send to either Anna or I.

Pretty poignant. I was very, very loved. I felt Jane was there with me looking through the cards and deciding which to send to who. I'm sending many of her cards back to England to her friends and family members. Mourning never goes away completely, it just hides under the table a bit and waits for a leg to grab.

Sorry. Sad post. Not sad really. End of year blues maybe?

Better have a cute cat photo to cheer it all up.

Popo thinks he may be Super Cat. All he needs is the cape and the underpants.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Walking. Carefully.

Little Family Outing yesterday.
Two days of snow and ice and Okaasan hadn't been out at all.
So yesterday we took advantage of sunshine and a slight thaw and walked with her to the next station down from us for lunch.
Okaasan NEVER goes here, so it was all new to her.

She is very dependent on Yujiro for help with walking on potentially icy places, holding into his hand and following his directions. Her walking is slower now, her balance not great - at one traffic signal crossing, Okaasan appeared to teeter on the slight slope to the curb...and as I rushed to hold her she grabbed the traffic signal to lean against it.

But all was well, she enjoyed the walk in the sunshine and looking at new things. It was a public holiday, so not many shops were open - but a good change from the living room and the TV.

She takes a long time to do things: folding up her shawl to drape it over the chair in the restaurant took several minutes, deciding HOW to put her handbag over her neck/shoulders...each decision seems to take more time.

At home we got done a whole lot of Prepping for Winter stuff, I even made a Xmas card list and thought about end of year things. It's a useful holiday.
I got my icky samples into the hospital the other day. Now I have to wait 2 weeks for the test results. If questionable, I  will need a camera stuffed up a place where NO camera should ever go. In Japan these kind of tests are very regular - I am getting a free one as a 50 year old.I think in the UK only people on big company private health insurance schemes get regular tests.

Slightly nervous about the results.
I've never had much to do with hospitals in my life - until last year of course, when what I thought might be a stomach worm-infestation caught from the cat toilet box...ended up being multiplying ovaries and an operation to whip 'em out. But thankfully, no cancer.
Health can change so suddenly. In 2 weeks time I could get a call back for a closer examination,  then suddenly Xmas and end-of-year could all be a hospital drama....

The other week I was just leaving a private student's home when she got the call from her sister to say that their mother has advanced lung cancer...the late-afternoon "feeling hot" and subsequent health checks had revealed a shaddow in the lungs etc etc. This family have just been celebrating the arrival of the first grandchild....so to have THIS news now is a shock.

So. Nervous. I am not ready for "Camera! Action!" in any part of my lower body....I am very grateful for all that KKR Hospital did fior me last year, but I don't want to spend Christmas there...

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Just a little...what?

Quiet weekend here.
We stayed home mainly and did stuff.
Went out on Saturday night with the Czech/Japanese couple - both of us got a bit too drunk. I remember reeling home with handfulls of chocolate from the late night supermarket.
Slept until 9 am Sunday.
Watched videos, read the paper, thought about doing-something-about-Xmas...and then didn't.
Took the cat to the vets for his second pill-popping, and I tackled the icky topic of sample collecting for a large intestine cancer check....cos when I took along samples in empty jamjars last week the nurse at the hospital was pretty shocked!!! Apparently you DON'T DIY. You take samples using little tubes and sticks they give you.

Anyway. Quiet weekend. Housework. 

Made cake!
Great recipe for sweet potato cake from the Internet, added in some blueberries.

Okaasan went out for a short walk late afternoon, in the dark and cold - both days. Sat and watched TV, slept.

Sunday lunchtime she wasn't great. Something just...off.
She looked terrible, her eyes were all squinty and tired. She just about followed our conversation. Sat silently eating.
Watching her do stuff around the kitchen I was aware of a slowness about it all, getting up and fetching the salt pot. Struggling to open it. Adding two spoons of salt, and about to do a third. Slowly going to get the tea cup and tea powder....standing for a moment at the cupboard looking at the shelves.
She seemed to be moving and thinking through treacle.

By dinner time she was ok again. We had the cook-on-the-table-nabe and she was standing up and down fishing stuff out of it. Eating loads.

But that lunchtime mood...oh...not a good sign....

Friday, 18 November 2011

Accentuate the positive :-)

He's home.
My solo-carer week is over.
Oyomesan Mission Accomplished for this time.

And sweetest thing? I was out working the first night he was back, so he had dinner with Okaasan.
She TOLD him that she'd been to the Glenn Miller Orchestra concert with me, and that my father had liked Glenn Miller etc.....
She remembered!
All worth it. Created a happy, positive memory for Okaasan in connection to me.

Now time to get on with other things in life that need doing: vacumn the carpet, go to the hospital for the free large-intestine cancer check-up for 50 year olds, take the cat for medicine to make sure he didn't catch anything from the rat, change the tires on the car for winter, write Xmas cards, think about Xmas presents....err...err...life!

Yesterday, just after I'd left my downtown class and was out in the park taking pictures of snow...a local Tv camera crew found me. They were doing interviews with locals about how-do-you-feel-about-arrival-of-snow-etc....and the interviews were rather strangely done bending over and peering into a big pot with a camera at the bottom of it....so of course everyone's double-chins showed nicely.
Mine? Triple-chin I think.
Caught myself on local Tv in the late afternoon...very scary image. I'd better add haircut to that list of stuff to do!

"My wish: I want to go skiing soon!"
(50 year old English teacher)

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Snow snow snow!

Nothing to do with Okaasan - but we got the first snowfall last night and I woke up to THIS!

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Mixed-up memories

Down memory lane again at dinner tonight: this time Okaasan's parents and how they came to be in Kawagoe.
It was all ok...sort of...but got increasingly mixed up in the telling and retelling.
"Why am I talking about this? " she said a few times....
Her father got mixed up with her husband more than once, and then when grandfather was thrown into the mix...who knows???!!

Anyway. Quiet dinner.
I feel tired today. Getting a cold maybe? Off to bed early.

Kitchen table travels.

Okaasan took me on a tour last night - from the kitchen table - to Israel, Jordan and Egypt.
We looked at the Wailing Wall, we dipped our toes in the River Jordan, we were disappointed at the lack of souvenirs, we learned about Christian history...

She was on great form in fact. Pretty lucid and clear in her conversation. Repetitive, but not hamster-like. Just a nice cosy chat with an old lady telling me about her travels.

When Yujiro's Dad  died (a few years before I met him), Okaasan took on a whole new life - joined the hula class and started going abroad with a religion-study group. I've seen pictures of her riding camels and hiking Ayre's Rock. It must have been a wonderful time for her - free from being a wife and no need to be a mother or grandmother.
Dinner last night I served up fish and Japanese-style veggies and soup and pickles - and she talked. Students had given me persimmons and I mentioned that in England persimmons (if we can get them at all) maybe come from Israel. 
"Israel" was the key word - and Okaasan was off on her travels....with me as her audience.

So, yesterday all good.
Lunch on the table and I doled out Y1,000 of spending money to her before I left for work. She accepts this - us giving her a little bit of money - it always surprises me really. How she accepts the passive role of someone who doesn't have money, but gets it from us.

I was home at 4 pm - as the skies of Sapporo darkened for the first snowfall of the season. Local radio and Tv had been predicting this event since yesterday, on and on, everyone was in "scurry mode" to get stuff done and get home before the snow arrived.
I got home and found Okaasan....preparing to go out.
She made it out ok, into the dark and cold with the first flakes falling.
She was back in under and hour luckily.

Yujiro called from yet another drinking party with old friends in the Tokyo area. He has a new Smart Phone with a SKYPE Ap. and like a child with a new toy he is endlessly calling me and asking me to shout "Hello" and wave at various drunk friends in bars. I'm not sure if it's the So Young Looking Foreign Girlfriend, or the Smart Phone with SKYPE he is showing off, after all these years as a couple I suspect the gadget has the greater appeal.
He is back on Thursday, so my Mission Oyomesan is heading into its final stages - and has been pretty successful I reckon. :-)

Thankyou for some nice comments this week : saying what a kind, sweet, generous woman I am.
Well, I am I suppose. I try. I think I fought this Okaasan situation for such a long time - giving me and her stress. Now I am accepting that this life is what it is...for a few years. I am SO LUCKY that Yujiro is the rare kind of Japanese guy who takes an active part in the caring, he shops, cooks, cleans (a bit). I am also very lucky that I have my own life and work to escape to.
And I'm lucky to have this blog to vent into!!!

Watching those dementia videos recently reminded me that Okaasan is probably at Early/Mid stage dementia now. 
On a good day - like last night, she is just a rambling old lady, who needs someone to cook/clean for her and control her money. She doesn't initiate conversations and she can't decide  and act on thoughts like "Have a bath" or "have a haircut". She has single-incontinence, sometimes double. She hand-washes a few clothes. Usually not sure what day or month it is, not sure whether or what she last ate.
She can: dress herself, go to the toilet herself, feed herself and go out for a walk and come home. She can follow a conversation and respond.

On bad days: she gets into a depression and confusion, can't operate machines, can't use kitchen things, hunts for "lost" things, accuses people of stealing stuff, has double incontinence and hides the soiled underwear.

Being nice and kind to Okaasan is a self-preservation act for me: Happy Okaasan = Easy to Manage Okaasan = Relaxed Oyomesan.


Monday, 14 November 2011

Just a Monday.

Mondays I don't usually see much of Okaasan.
I'm gone at 9 am, back for an hour late afternoon and then out again and back at 8.30 pm.
Same today - left her food, came home and made her dinner and left it on the table.
Saw her briefly in the kitchen in the morning and she thanked me for taking her to the concert (should stave off a good few negative feelings about me I am hoping!), and then briefly again when I got home at 8.30 pm.
She ate all the food I left out for her in these hot flasks. Useful.

Tomorrow night I am home. Better cook something all warm and friendly on the table together - shared hotpot maybe - to give her some facetime.

That's the saddest thing about Okaasan's life now: she doesn't have any interaction with ANYONE apart from us at home and various shop staff. I feel these weeks when Yujiro is away must be even  more so.
He seems reluctant to get her involved in yet another hula dance class. The class at the adult culture school where I teach is maybe good for her: small group, low level, and not too many stressy performace days.
But he needs to take her along to observe the class on a Tuesday lunchtime (I'm working then), and he's let 2 Tuesdays slip by without doing it. Probably exhausted by the whole hula-dance-will-she-won't-she-like-it-saga. Can't blame him for that. But it's sad that she doesn't have that social acitivity now.

She's asked about him a few times. Where is he? When is he coming back? This time we are honest that he is visiting friends in Tokyo area. She seems ok with it. Seems...who knows...

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Chatanagachoo-choo...or something.

Day out.
Done it.

A bath!
Lunch at home.
Subway to the concert hall.
Glenn Miller Orchestra - including a Christmas Medley and a clap along to all those great old hits.
Subway home.
Dinner a deux in a ramen restaurant.
Walked home together in the dusk.
Sleep for her - sleep...sleep...

A large glass of Chardonnay and a Johnny Depp movie for me.
Done it.

Okaasan was flagging towards the end, I think just being at the concert made her tired. And I offered her a taxi ride for the last section to the house. But she declined and walked it.
I bet she'll sleep all night now.

Bath: "do I have to?" she asked me....."err...yes...you haven't had a bath for a while, wouldn't it be nice before you go to the concert hall to have a bath?"..."I suppose so".....I started the bath running...then lots of chat about her bathtowels and the cute little logo on the towel...finally I encouraged her into the bathroom....and left her to take her own clothes off and go into it alone. She was in the bath for almost an hour...washing some underclothes too. But she wasn't keen to take a bath. I wonder if we'll have to start helping her bath sometime soon.???

Lunch: chilli tofu, miso soup, rice, tomatoes...."I'm sorry I'm not going to eat the miso soup, it makes your body smell so it isn't nice in a public place...."....chat chat chat...and she ate the miso soup without realizing.

Let's leave at 12.30 pm : all sorts of stuff about the handbag, the coat...the gloves...oh and the SHOES! and must change out of socks into stockings...but OH! maybe can't walk in these nice shoes...so had better take my comfy shoes too in a bag...half way to the subway station she changed shoes...then at the concert hall entrance she changed shoes again....

Toilet: ???? "no I don't need the toilet...." She refused every suggestion of a toilet.... for 6 hours. I hate to think what I'll find in her room tomorrow.

Concert: loved it. she clapped along and laughed at the American band leader's Japanese, and the songs and the jokes. Loved it. Very good concert. I remembered my Dad and my Grandad...they loved these songs. Little Brown Jug. Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree. American Patrol.

Home to our local station: "I didn't eat any lunch, so I'm hungry"??????????????......I took her to the noodle place and we sat in relaxed silence slurping noodles.

And home. 

Pretty exhausting for me. I was On Duty since 9 am when I started running the bath for her. And Clocked Off at 5 pm when I got her home.


I think I'll go back to English teaching work tomorrow for a nice rest.:-)

Giggling our way thru the week ;-)

Goin' strong.

Okaasan and Me.

Lunch on the table in the flasks and gave her Y1,000 spending money before I set out on my day yesterday.

Interesting day for me: helped a friend take her two cats to the vets, then went downtown to attend a seminar about Foreigners and Inheritence in Japan (two wills? do the siblings get anything? what happens if you aren't married and thus NOT on the Family Register?) and then to meet a young woman who contacted me thru Couch Surfing - she is thinking of marrying her Japanese guy and wonders what life as a foreign wife is like in Japan!!!!!!! oh wow....WHERE to start on that topic!!!!!!
I did tell her - check his family arrangements - who is likely to be caring for the aging parents in a few years??? Are there lots of helpful siblings living near eachother who can take turns? Will it be you alone???? Important stuff like that which you don't consider when you are just concerned with the romance of it all.....I am now VERY concerned about Foreign Oyomesans of the Future!

Home about 5 pm.
Okaasan just heading out. Another gorgeous autumnal day missed.

Easy dinner: freshly made soup for her, with a piece of fried fish, broccoli, rice, pickles. Leftover veggie soup and cheese for me.

She was back about 6.15 pm. She really doesn't go far or stay out long these days.

Okaasan got to the table, saw the fish and started giggling. At the fish! Hand to her mouth, rocking back and forth. Giggling.
"Oh! It's so small! This is so cute! So small!...usually bigger than this...." giggle giggle giggle.

This over-reaction to something is an Okaasan point I've become more aware of recently. This year maybe. A joke or a funny situation sends her into ratures of giggles/hand to mouth/whole body rocking in delight, something just a bit strange or if she feels a bit guilty - more and more giggles. She often comes home and walks thru the kitchen door - and giggles at us...
The other day I found her giggling at the kitchen wipe cloth that I'd left scrunched up in the sink, instead of hanging carefully on the dish drying rack.

Giggling. At a wash cloth!  :-))

One of the dementia videos I watched the other day mentioned this too - loss of control of emotions. Of course working both ways - happiness AND anger. Luckily - oh so luckily - at the moment we see Okaasan's over-happiness about life. I absolutely intend to keep it that way.
Okaasan is basically a positive, happy, out-going person. Like mother, like son. She's always enjoyed life and seen the funny side of things and been open to new experiences (joined a hula dance class within weeks of her husband's death and signed on for the class trip to Hawaii immediatly).

So we are starting with a basically happy person here. It's my mission to make sure she stays that way and that we don't tip into darkness and anger and confusion and paranoia.

So. Giggling at the little, fried fish. Fine.

And then. I produced my trump card for this weekend.
The Glenn Miller Orchestra concert.
These are tickets I bought ages ago. Thought it would be a good thing for Okaasan and I to go and do and enjoy together. We do so little a deux that I thought it would be a good opportunity. Oyomesan and Okaasan bonding time.

So I told her I'd got concert tickets for this big band sound concert today - she and I will go.
Oh ! Such happiness. She poured over the concert flyer, read and reread all the list of songs endless times and went on and on about the music and post-war Japan and music.

A very successful dinner.
Thanks to a bit of fried fish and Glenn Miller.


Saturday, 12 November 2011

Down memory lane.

Send me your demented mothers!
Send me your aged parents who need feeding!
I'm getting good at this!
And smug.

Lunch in flasks on the table. OK.

Home at 6.15 pm to cook up another TV cooking show easy recipe - this time nira and natto, two of the smelliest foods in Japan...so Okaasan and I can't kiss anyone today.
But it was fine. Natto/Nira and rice, and soup and some tomato salad.

Okaasan at home and ready to eat.
We sat down a deux at 7 pm.
What conversation to get her on tonight? I thought last night that she looked a bit tired round the eyes, and was it my imagination or was she having problems following my bad Japanese? I've read that dementia sufferers gradually lose their ability to follow conversations and of course poor Okaasan is having to deal with a foreigner massacreing her language - so it wouldn't be too surprising.
Dinner with me is probably as stressful for her, as it is for me!

I tried a few conversation starts but nothing took. She laughed and made the most basic responses, but nothing took off for chat. We ate in silence a bit. At least this meant she was eating and not waving her chopsticks around while talking.

Finally I found the conversation trigger - I'd talked about helping a friend take her cats to the vets, but there was no response - none of the questions you might expect on that (which friend? why? how many cats? where?...nothing), so I used the pet topic and asked Okaasan -"did you have a pet when you were a child?" - and she was OFF with a story about how she had no time for pets because she was the oldest of 6 siblings and had to work to help her mother. Of course.
Actually, it was interesting snapshots of a Japan long-ago, a different age before cell phones and Starbucks and noisy TV shows. Repetitive talk of course, but interesting.

Okaasan's father was a truck driver/owner - pretty unusual in those pre-war days. They lived in Kawagoe, an old city north-west of Tokyo. Kawagoe made tansu, the wooden chests with many drawers that now sell for vast amounts in antique shops around the world. Mr. Okamoto delivered these tansu to customers all over the Tokyo area - the wood was soft and scratched easily, so responsible delivery was important. They were often delivered to brides who were packing up their stuff to move into the husband's family house and all the neighbors would come out into the street to watch the new bride arrive and judge her family status by the quality and volume of tansu she arrived with.

Okaasan talked about the tansu makers bringing their valuable creations to her father's warehouse in the morning, how they were all lined up and then loaded and he set off to deliver them.

Her other chat was a wonderful personal snapshot - the reason why she never had time for a pet of course.

"I used to go to elementary school, maybe I was 5th grade, and I'd walk with my youngest brother strapped on my back, and holding my younger sister's hand, and I'd be knitting as I walked...but it was ok because there weren't many cars or trucks on the road, so I'd knit while I was walking...I made a sweater for my father, nowadays people have sweater patterns, but I just guessed the shape and maybe the teacher helped me?."

And so: we whiled away our dinner hour with all of that. Japan long ago.
Finally about 8 pm I used the one-cat-is-still-not-home-I-should-go-look-for-him excuse and brought dinner to a close. Minutes later Okaasan was back in her room with the TV, and my evening up stairs could start.

She's looking a bit crazy and wild at the moment, she hasn't had a bath in over a week I think. Tomorrow I have tickets to take her to a big band concert and I'll get her to have a bath before we go to that. She doesn't initiate baths anymore at all, just a bit of water splashed on her face and some occasional toothbrushing I think.

And so . Onwards into the weekend.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Mission ongoing...

Mission  all a.o.k. today.

Left food in the flasks on the table for Okaasan's lunch and went off for work.

Came home late afternoon with a box of great, cheap veggies to create a stuffed-full of veggies soup I'd seen on a TV cooking show.
Of course the TV show chef had an underling chef to carefully peel and cut all the veggies for him, but it was ok - while Okaasan stirred herself up for a 5 pm departure ("I've been watching Tv today, I didn't notice the time"), I chopped veggies and made the soup, AND made the potato/cabbage fry up she likes.

There was a brief...very brief moment - when I considered asking her if she could help me chop the vegetables - but I beat that thought down quickly - Okaasan in the kitchen is just a whole performance of increasingly confusion and unfinished work. With 90 minutes of time for prepping and eating I don't need the stress of that and SHE needs to go out and exercise.

Checked the GPS at 6.15 pm and could see her heading home - so I started getting it all table-ready. She got home and did her usual trip to the toilet - walking from her room via the kitchen to the toilet - in her UNDERPANTS!!! Kind of strange to see her do that - in the house the kitchen is the shared-family space and pajamas are the norm for all of us, or I may dash across it late at night in a towel after a shower...I've never seen Okaasan in the kitchen in her underpants.

She and I had dinner together. I talked a bit about Yujiro going to Tokyo by a 20 hour ferryboat trip, but she wasn't so interested - and after a few non-starts of conversation she alighted on the word "Otaru". It's a port town in Hokkaido, and I was gabbering on about ferries and harbors...and she alighted on the name "Otaru".

OFF she went - Otaru!! - Ishihara Yuiro (the Elvis of Japan long ago) he lived there! - Otaru - Yujiro lived near my cooking school in Tokyo - my cooking school in Tokyo - Yujiro a BIG star - someone told me the Ishihara family house was near my cooking school - even my husband came to look at the outside of the house - it was near my cooking school in Tokyo - I went to a cooking school - someone told me Ishihara Yujiro's family lived near the school - my HUSBAND even wanted to see the house - Ishihara was a big star - my cooking......

At 7 pm I exited for the class, and left Okaasan happily eating veggie soup and potato/cabbage fry and rice.

All ok.

Yesterday in a quiet moment at work I was looking on the Internet at videos about dementia training workshops etc - and realizing we are still VERY lucky with Okaasan. After watching lots of videos of dementia sufferers in states of vacancy, shuffling silence, gibbering - I thought we are lucky to just have hamster-wheel stories/dirty underwear/dirty room/a fridge-full of yogurt/money-hair salon-dentist management and the endless checking questions ("There are two cats aren't there?").

Lucky, so lucky.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Mission Oyomesan.

He's gone.
I am in charge. The Decider. For 8 days.

Done it before. Will almost certainly do it again, and again...and again.
Of course it IS getting easier - my general relationship with Okaasan is much better now and I have a stock of easy-acceptable ideas for food that she'll eat.
I hope there won't be any more hiding in the second floor rooms and peeing in a trashbox as I did in "Second Floor Ghost in Nov. 2009"

Now I am a mature, sensible, calm, organised Oyomesan.
Spend a week with Okaasan? No problemo!


He left at lunchtime, this time being honest with Okaasan and telling her he was going to Tokyo to see friends etc. Last year he lied and told her he was going on a ski instructors' course...in one of the biggest cities in Asia....and I had to perpetuate that lie for a week.

Today I came home late afternoon and shouted basic greetings to Okaasan from the kitchen...my coming home woke her up and 30 mins later at 5 pm she set out, in the dark of course - the evening walk.
I set the crab sushi on the table, heated up the soup and put it in a flask, made a quick salad and left the "I/We are out tonight, so please have dinner alone" sign on the kitchen table. I checked on the cell phone GPS that Okaasan was only at the local supermarket, and just after 6 pm I headed back out to work.
All ok. Evening class. A quiet dinner for me with the newspaper in a local cheapo restaurant.

Got home at 8.15 pm. One cat sitting on the doorstep to greet me....with my key I opened the door locks, tried again, pulled the door.....WHAT???????????

The security chain was on the door inside!!!
Okaasan had locked both regular locks AND the security chain!!!

I had to ring the doorbell and get her staggering blearily into the hall to let me into the house!
"I thought I was on my own. I thought I should lock the door, I forgot?"
"No! no! Yujiro is away in Tokyo, but I am STILL HERE! I was just at work!"

Great. Maybe the cats will have to show me the way to jump in via the shed roof....of course with a dead rat in my mouth.

Mission Oyomesan. The first night.
Over and Out.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Two blogs to recommend.

Do you like food and travel?
If "Yes", like me - please check out two blogs I follow.
I've just added them to the My Blog List, which is on the far right of this page in the green area and scroll down.

 is a blog by Masako, a Hokkaido guide and writer and teacher. A few years ago I helped her with a book (Pera Pera Hokkaido), and she writes about her travels and food experiences.

is by  a sometime-student of mine Kimi-san. She works in Hokkaido as a tour guide too and often features amazing, close-ups of fantastic food. This week she is in east Hokkaido and took a beautiful sunrise photo.

Have a look at these two blogs if you have time.:-)

Monday, 7 November 2011

An evening of evenings to come.............OMG.

Had dinner a deux with Okaasan tonight.
Haven't had to do that in a while.
Yujiro is out at a velo taxi drivers' end-of-season-piss-up and so I get the wonderful event of Dinner with Okaasan.
And on Wednesday he's off for a week of annual piss-up in the Tokyo area with old friends...and I will get night after glorious night of....Dinner with Okaasan.
Except I jumped at the chance of two students booking evening classes on Wednesday and Thursday so that's TWO evenings I can escape. Wonder if I could book classes on the other 5 nights too?

There was a brief ray of escape light when I thought Okaasan herself was going to drop dinner plans at 5 pm because she came rushing home in the rainstorm and said she'd slipped in our parking area, fallen and hurt her lip. No blood or anything, but pain. 
And the next thing would be: feeling injured/sick...shouldn't eat any dinner......
But no. No such luck.

I cooked spagetti, salad and soup - all easy.
Got Okaasan to the table, fumbled around for a conversation topic and after a few false starts got her onto - Culture Day last week - lots of Japanese kinds of culture - you did flower arranging didn't you - young people don't know how to do it - and tell me everything again and again about your flower arranging classes in Tokyo 50 years ago...and she did over and over again.
The stories got all very mixed up - with cooking classes and flower arranging classes, and who said what and when, and where, and cooking  and flowers....

The soup and the salad were sitting on the table while Okaasan waved her choptsticks around and chatted on and on. Finally I stood up and cleared away my dirty plates, washed up the pans, wiped down the kitchen surfaces...and finally remembered the Get Out of Kitchen card - some laundry hanging in the bathroom.
"Ahh this laundry didn't dry, I'd better take it upstairs to the living room heater, excuse me, so sorry!.....".
Laundry is always a good excuse for leaving the table and kitchen, because Okaasan thinks doing laundry is important and good housewifeing.

And so I escaped. 50 minutes of Dinner with Okaasan. Done.

Gonna be a long, long week.
Gonna be a whole lot of moaning here folks.
I fear, and tonight certainly seemed so, that Okaasan's conversation powers have declined since last year. With Yujiro she just sits and listens to him go on and on, making the occasional contribution. With me and my patchy Japanese ability she has to do more of the talking, I can't prattle in Japanese so well - and so I get her onto a topic, ask some innocent questions on her fave topic and let her run with it.
But getting her to eat dinner while running round memory-land is hard!

Gonna be a long week a-coming.

Upstairs, Downstairs.

Ended our weekend with a couple-night out on the cheapo Groupon vouchers to a bar with Italian food. Finished up with one more beer and meat on sticks near the subway station.
Came home.

Upstairs: the cat brought home his second rat this week. Luckily dead. Luckily he left it out on the roof (and no, he didn't bring matches too, that's my later addition to give a size comparison to my circle of rodent experts on Facebook!).

And Downstairs: Yujiro went to the toilet and found Okaasan had been trying to hide a toilet accident, so he was dealing with soiled toilet mat and carpet tiles.

Yuk, yuk, yuk. Our life is so very glamorous.
So sorry if you are reading this blog while eating. :-)

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Gloves, gloves, gloves...GLOVES!!!!

"I need to buy new gloves. A woman on the subway stole my gloves..."

Okaasan was fretting from dawn about the Stolen Gloves.
Sitting in her room constantly looking in her purse.

Yujiro was ridiculously stupid about her Stolen Gloves story and kept trying to correct her: no, no, I expect you LOST the gloves, women on the subway don't STEAL gloves, you LOST them etc etc.
I get so annoyed with him when he does this. It doesn't matter eitherway to us, but in Okaasan's worldview the STOLEN story is her reassuring story that she isn't going senile, that the outside world-woman-on-the-train did something to her. Paranoia doesn't accept Logic. Why not just nod and say a few comforting words, vageuly accept her version of events and leave it? Why challenge her version? It just winds her up and gets the whole thing more and more stressy???

Maybe I am better at doing this because I am not a precise, logical person - the world can be this...or maybe that...whichever. He needs precision, things must be THIS way, or not at all. And also maybe...I am a language teacher and spend my days faking interest in students' stories about their lives....most of the time it IS interesting, but there are times when I just fake it and smile and nod and say: "Oh really? You bought a pen for $200? How  wonderful!",

Anyway. Back to gloves.

She asked Yujiro for the money to buy gloves. We debated this at breakfast time: if we gave her the money would she actually BUY gloves, or instead forget that and come home with 10 pots of aloe yogurt and pack of expensive seaweed?
It seems so stupid to be having this kind of conversation - is the child able to go shopping alone? Okaasan isn't a child, but we have a pretty clear idea of what she'll probably do or not do in a situation.
Does she need help to buy gloves? Can she do it herself?
Decided it was probably best for Yujiro to go with her and buy the gloves - maybe on Monday.

Hmmm...still not happy. I need gloves, gloves, gloves...stolen...gloves...

When Okaasan has something she wants to do, patience isn't foremost on her mind. It must be done NOW! Today! Now!

Mid-morning she remembered?/invented the tale? that she had in fact already BOUGHT and asked the shop to hold the gloves at the department store downtown and had to go RIGHT NOW and pay for them.
Sighing, he gave her the money and she got dressed and ready to go out in 15 minutes flat - and went. No mid-morning breakfast. No thankyou. Gloves, Department Store. Now.  Amazing. Usually takes her an hour to get it together for going out.
When there is something on her mind that needs doing - 15 minutes.

Anyway, it left us a whole day to enjoy ourselves. We left her lunch in the new flasks on the kitchen table and set off for a noodle and tempura lunch at a restaurant I was know and then a hot spring...where we found we could book one of the private rooms for 90 minutes!!!! Couple time for Y3,000. Goooooooooood.

The autumn leaves are going, going, gone around Sapporo now, amazing to think that in 7 weeks from now it will all be snow covered. I hope I can ski more this year...I NEED to ski more this year!

Nice couple time out. He is off next week for his annual autumn trip to the Tokyo area to see old friends and drink the city dry. So it is good to have some time to ourselves for now - gives me good memories to hang onto when I am stuck at the kitchen table with Okaasan having dinner next week...

And we came home and Lo! and Behold! Gloves! She had bought them. Excellent. We over-worried about it. Easy to do this - to think she can't do something, when maybe...maybe she can. I think Carers do this a lot. It is hard to get the balance of how much supervision/care/life management Okaasan needs.
All ok now. New gloves bought.
Until these get stolen of course....

* And...look what I have bought....New Year lunch/dinner! I ordered it at the supermarket, for delivery on December 31st. A box of all the traditional stuff I am NOT GOING TO COOK WITH OKAASAN. NOT. COOKING. NOT. Learned that lesson last year after a 5 hour shopping/cooking biathlon. Ordering it is far, far better.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Kneely there.

I am Oyomesan's left knee.
Two years ago I was THE main topic of this blog. Never mind the old lady and her problems. I was the Main Event.
Now I am a lot stronger.
Yesterday I was taken for a long bike ride in the autumn sunshine, all the way from Minami Hiragishi to the Makomonai Olympic park....where I took a break with sandwiches on a bench and wistfully watched other, healthier knees jogging...and then I cycled on and round the park. And back home again.
Then I sat down and recovered.
Oyomesan watched THREE movies on TV, with a glass of white wine and cheese and olives.

I'm a little way off being able to climb mountains again, but going for a long bike ride is a BIG pedal for knee-kind.
Kneely there. :-))

Wednesday, 2 November 2011


"I was busy!" - Okaasan's go-to excuse for staying at home ALL one glorious autumn day, and finally emerging at dusk along with the leftover Halloween bats and ghouls.


Haven't laughed so much in ages. Both of us. Howled at that one. As I washed up the lunchtime dishes she hadn't done and he unloaded shopping from the car.

It was such a gloriously, off-the-chart huge lie. Can only laugh. And slave on.

We'd just come home from a Costco run, with the car bursting full of stuff to be unloaded. Just gone 5 pm at the end of a sunny, warm autumn day in Sapporo. The autumn leaves looked great, people were strolling in the parks, kids chasing leaves, everyone's mood lifted by the unseasonally warm day.

5 pm. Now dark. People heading home. End of the day.
Okaasan? In the entrance hall just about to go out.
We both commented on that as we came in and met her: why now? why didn't you go earlier? You missed the best weather today! etc etc.

"I was busy. That's why I am going out now."

This from a lady who we are 99% sure has sat in front of the TV since early morning. Probably stood up a few times to walk to the toilet and walked to the kitchen table for lunch. Maybe she brushed her hair. Looked at the newspaper. Looked at some old shopping receipts. Err....looked at a magazine. The TV. Lay down. Sat up. Lay down. Looked at a shopping receipt.

Of course that's all ok. At 80 plus you can have that kind of day if you feel like it. But the sheer confidence it takes to say: "I was busy!" as an off-the-top-of-the-head excuse for not doing something. 

The dementia books talk a lot about "sun-downing", how dementia sufferers appear to get more active at the end of the day - so certainly Okaasan fits this pattern of doing nothing for hours and then finally at the end of the afternoon doing things.

And the barefaced lies - of course not conscious lies, but kind of automatic responses to a question. Okaasan doesn't know where she's just been or what he's just done a lot of the time, so if we ask (and all the advice is that you shouldn't ask), then she'll always say "Seicomart/SapporoStation/Seiyu/TanukiKohji/McDonalds", and it might be true, but not necessarily so. It's just her brain supplying a stock answer to that situation.
In one book I read, a lady was always telling visitors: "I've just come back from holiday in Cornwall", much to their confusion as she had actually been in a carehome for a year, and hadn't been travelling for years before that either.

So. "Busy". The new "Vegging Out by the TV". I like that kind of busy....

* But! I will be able to track Okaasan from now on, with that wonderful GPS system linked to her cell phone. Yujiro's new lover - his many-function AU mobile phone - enables us to use the GPS system via the house computer.
I've called it "Okaasan Hunter" on our desktop, and from now on I can check where she is and how long until she appears for dinner.
She doesn't in fact get lost now, that happened a lot when we first moved here. And her walking world is much smaller than a year ago. But still...it will be fun to be a snoop and see where she's at. :-)