Posts Tagged ‘Carl Sandburg’

Prepare Thyself!

Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt, 26th president of the United States of America, conservationist and creator of the National Park System, advised, “Make preparation in advance. You never have trouble if you are prepared for it.”

National Park System

EDC, Every Day Carry, refers to “small items or gadgets worn, carried, or made available in pockets, holsters, or bags on a daily basis to manage common tasks or for use in unexpected situations or emergencies. In a broader sense, it is a lifestyle, discipline, or philosophy of preparedness.”

Handy when needed

Long before I became a HANC (Housekeeper, Activities director, Nutritionist and Companion) for my mother, I knew the value of being prepared and the adage promoting “A place for everything and everything in its place.”Yellow leather bag

I am still working on the place issue and have abandoned a few ideals along the way. I’m learning how insignificant some of my personal quirks and preferences are.

It does not matter if the cups and glasses end up on the same shelf. If the teaspoons and tablespoons end up where I wanted the forks, who cares? Towels dry just as well from the third shelf as they would if they were placed on the second.

martini on a shelf

My mother often repeats a story she heard as a child whenever she wants to commend me on my preparedness.

Betsy often went with her sister who was a midwife. One time, the midwife was delivering a baby and discovered she had left her scissors at home. Betsy, who was not a midwife, pulled a pair of scissors from her basket and said, “Betsy’s ready. Betsy’s got her scissors.”

Metal Scissors

I might seem as if I am organized and know where everything is, but some days I don’t feel as if any amount of planning or preparedness training will equip me.

Everything in its place

            I haven’t been prepared to hear some of the things my mother has said to friends on the phone.

  • Oh, I never go anywhere.

I make a point to take her as often as she is willing to go to places she needs to go – stylist, doctors, church, family – and places she might find interesting such as museums, farmers’ markets or just driving to see landscape and homes.

traffic

 

  • I can’t go see her and she won’t come to me.

Now, I feel like a warden in a prison. I’ve recited names of family and friends I’d like to visit with her and she tells me she does not want to go see them, can’t make the ride that far, won’t be able to climb the steps into the home or they should come to her.

prison

 

  • Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy having them here, but . . .
  • I don’t do anything. Every day is the same. I just sit in my chair and do my puzzles.

I have scheduled my editing work around my mother’s day. I usually work long after she has gone to bed.

 

puzzle books

What’s a HANC to do?

Take a deep breath and realize that whatever happens between girlfriends on a phone call – even old girlfriends – is between girlfriends and shouldn’t be taken personally. Often, these calls, especially among the elders, are just for passing time together.

lifetime friends

Try to find reasons for those drives. Need milk? Bread?  Cookies?

C is for cookie

Do you have something to return to a sibling or friend? Turn simple errands into expeditions by taking a new route and look for streets with slow speed limits so you can take in the sights or discuss your surroundings.

Keep asking. Eventually, you’ll hear

Ear

“That sounds like a good idea.”

Make memories that might stick for future phone calls and perhaps one day, you’ll overhear:

            I’m not sure when, but she took me to the museum and we saw things that reminded me of my childhood. … One day, we went out to some parking lot and just gazed up at the clouds, just like I used to do with my cousin, but we stayed in the car instead of lying on Momma’s porch. … We went to the church festival and it was nice to see all the people there; I didn’t know so many of them missed me. … We do so many things together; she and I bake cakes and cookies and we go shopping together!

clouds above mountains

You might not hear these things, but it won’t hurt to make the memories for yourself – just in case.

            Take the steps necessary to prepare yourself for what awaits. Study, read, research and talk with other HANCs. Get ready for the good days and the bad and know there will always – and I mean always – be something you didn’t expect.

stairs

By all means plan and prepare. Just know when you become a HANC, you cannot plan for every contingency. Do your best and accept that your best is just right.tall flag at mountain

Mommasez

One of the best things about caregiving, or being a HANC—in addition to knowing you are providing much-needed Housekeeping skills, directing some new Activities, providing healthy Nutritional options and being a Companion—is having the honor of hearing stories and historical remembrances.

Even more so, are short stand-alone sentences, or what I call Mommasez.

Traveling with mom

Because I now live with my mother and spend time with her, going to doctors’ appointments, to have her hair styled, to visit family and out for meals, we talk on our way to these places. Naturally, we also talk at home.

large man in small chairMommasez things that make me shake my head in disbelief.

“When I am on my deathbed and they hook me up to whatever it is they hook people up to before they die, make sure to pour one last cup of coffee in a bag. I want to die with coffee in my veins.”

laughing woman

Mommasez things that make me laugh.

“People say ‘I’m pretty sure.’ Have you ever heard anybody say they were ugly sure?”

bowls of grapes

Often, current events spark memories from her childhood. One such memory came after I brought her a large bowl of grapes harvested from the scuppernong vine in her back yard.

“When I was a child, every fall, there was a man who would stop our bus driver and tell him, ‘Bring the children back tomorrow for grapes.’ The next day, our mothers would give us paper bags, because we didn’t have plastic in those days. Sometimes, the paper bags would have a wax lining, but not usually. So, after school, the bus would stop at his house and all the children got off and picked all the grapes we could take home. Our mothers made jelly and it didn’t cost anything. Well, they had to buy sugar and jars, but that’s how we did it in those days. We all helped one another.”

Momma says things

Mommasez things that make me wonder.

“No, I do not want to visit my cousin in the hospital. They might lock the door and never let me out.”

Mommasez things that would have shocked me years ago, but I have learned she often wants to see if I will have a witty remark.

shower

“Ooh, this shower is better than sex,” makes me reply, “Obviously you truly have lost all your memories, or you always slept with the wrong men.”

She and I both know she has had sex with a total of two men, each her husband; the second following a forty-year marriage to my father, more than twenty-five years after his death.

laughter

My goal is one belly laugh each day. Now that we’ve settled into our own rhythm, we sometimes achieve more than one good guffaw.

save the world

I have started to enjoy her simple needs without imposing my desires upon her. Relaxed in my instinct to take-over-the-reins-and-aright-the-world, I take pleasure in her happiness. I certainly share her frustrations.

parking permit

My mother is fiercely independent, even in a state of disability. Less than a decade ago, she maintained her own home and worked outside the home. Family members assisted with yard work under her supervision.

Sandberg's canes

She cooked, cleaned, handled her finances and was one of the healthiest people in the family. She recovered from her first serious fall well and managed with a cane.

Mommasez things that are profoundly sad, at times.

large family

“I can die now. I know I will never be this happy again,” she told me the night of her eightieth birthday, six years ago.

That was the first time in twelve years all eight of her children were together, most with our children and her great-grandchildren attending.

Walker

She fell again and broke much more than one bone, as in her first tumble. Still, her independent streak fights her limits. She uses a walker for every step she takes, yet there are times, she attempts chores by leaning on other things, some that are not sturdy or steady. When I offer to take over a task that seems too much for her, she scolds me.

“Let me do what I can, while I still can. Soon enough, you will have to do it all for me and you’ll wish I could do it, even if me have to fweep it twice.”

sweeper

“Fweep it twice,” is a reference to my youngest sister who longed to do anything she could to feel more grown up. When she was four years old, she started sweeping the kitchen and someone took the broom from her and told her she was too small to do a good job, as she had left some crumbs. My sister reclaimed the broom with the statement, “Me fweep it twice!”

Time is precious

Youngsters and oldsters need to feel useful and important. It’s the responsibility of those of us in the middle to help them in their quests. We, who are more experienced or healthier, may indeed do the job faster or better – but we can always sweep it twice. We must remember the important things are not the tasks we do for our loved ones, but the time we spend with them.

kitchen

Momma says she wants to be more helpful in the kitchen and I don’t mind. It’s my job to set her up for success and to enjoy the time we have together. If I’m lucky, I might even hear few more things Mommasez.

Oops! My Domesticity is Showing.

domestiic oops

My what is showing?

When I left my hometown, I had a purpose. I had a plan. When I returned, nearly fifteen years later, my purpose had changed and my plan? Well, life has not gone according to my plan. Fortunately, I’m not the kind of person who needs to follow a formula precisely.

chocolate cake

Looks better than it tastes

Ask those poor people who were unfortunate enough to taste my salty chocolate cakes. Yes, I said cakes, with a plural emphasis, because I don’t always immediately learn from my mistakes.

daek chocolate bar

Nothing but the best!

When we were dating, I baked my husband a three-layer chocolate cake for his birthday. I had used the recipe on the back of the cocoa box so many times, I had it memorized and could practically prepare it blindfolded. I’d read that the addition of salt enhances the flavor of chocolate, so in addition to the typically delicious cake, I sprinkled in a few extra spoonfuls of salt to the icing. I added and stirred and tasted and added and stirred and repeated the process until I was certain I had the perfect enhancement. I was at a need-to-impress-him state in my life, so after forming the peaks on the frosting in a way that would make Martha Stuart want to arm wrestle Betty Crocker for my secret, I packed the cake carefully and drove 325 miles to his Florida home.

Central Florida Ocean

Not the sort of place you’d store your cake.

The cake smelled delicious and when I removed the cover, everyone in the house actually made an “ohh” or “mmm” sound. Big slices, unfortunately, were left on their plates after the first bite. My husband said it tasted like I had dumped it in the ocean.

pound cake recipe

Some recipes are more detailed than others.

 I waited many years before attempting to bake another cake, but this time, I followed a recipe precisely.

 

chocolate cake caramel icing

Never underestimate the power of following instructions.

The chocolate cake with caramelized sugar glaze was a hit, so with my confidence restored, I attempted another chocolate cake with chocolate icing, but did not try to enhance it with the addition of salt, yet this cake tasted worse than the first! Even I didn’t like it. I knew I’d lost my edge in the kitchen, but it didn’t matter.

desk edge

Editing happens here

I was a career woman, an editor, writer and photographer. I spent my weekdays in an office, working with an award-winning publisher and my weekends on outings with accomplished photographers or in my home office editing the works of novelists, memoirists, essayists, short story writers and poets. I didn’t need to bake and I didn’t need to cook. I didn’t even need to clean much.

what's for dinner

Nothing elaborate

My husband was content with quickly cooked meals from kits and the freezer. We lived our lives in such a way that I didn’t have to spend much time doing housework or yard work. We were living our plans and dreaming our dreams.

Mary is happy

Back in the carefree career days

I thought I was happy.

Scooter Pooting

Independently dependent

Then, we visited my mother and realized that although she could continue to live alone, her health would surely suffer and decline. We knew we couldn’t wait for someone else to step forward and help out more than they were. Each member of the family was doing his and her best to work around unique work situations and life schedules and no one was in a position to step into the role of full-time Housekeeper, Activities director, Nutritionist and Companion (HANC).

It was time for me to fill that role.

bicycle

How hard can it be?

I wondered if being a homemaker would be like riding a bike. Would it come back to me?

cookbooks in order

What’s for dinner?

In another life that my current husband has never known, I took extreme pride in my home. I used a cookbook and canning jars and slow cookers.

place setting

Presentation is half the battle

 I set the table and I knew “what’s for dinner” if anyone asked. I focused on my family and not my career in those days, but I wasn’t happy.

unpacking

Unpacking is as difficult as moving.

For several months, I have focused on the transition from full-time editor to full-time HANC. In between editing assignments, I have unpacked and worked to de-clutter and organize my mother’s small home.

hairdresser

Granny’s getting her style updated.

  It seemed that if I wasn’t driving to appointments with her hairdresser, we were driving to a doctor or to pick up prescriptions. I’ve accepted that I will be responsible for ensuring she takes her many daily medications properly.

herbs

Traditional Chinese raw herbs

Her many trips to see many specialists and doctors grates my own personal preference to more natural healing, which does not include pharmaceuticals.

oreos and milk

Yummy, but not nutritious.

 I  grimaced at her predilection for cookies and ice cream.

wine glass of juice

You don’t have to drink wine to toast to your health.

I rejoiced silently when she requested fresh juice and my recent triumph came when she requested a second helping of chili after telling me she didn’t really like chili, “until tonight.” Oh, yes! I followed a recipe and did not add any extra salt.

manuscript

Pages from my novel.

I’m still writing. I went on a photo outing in mid-October. I still write for some of my established clients.

vacuum

Vacuum cleaner in the Carl and Lillian Sandburg home in Flat Rock, North Carolina.

Oddly, I’m content to assist my mother, vacuum, make beds and find interesting meals to cook for my family.

paint

Awaking my sleeping artist

Is it possible that my domestic contentment will play a role in my artistic creativity at some point?

scarecrow in garden

Garden at Cannemara, Carl Sandburg’s home in NC.

 Perhaps my muse has been hiding in the garden, all along. I still have plans and dreams and yet, I find an amusing peacefulness when someone compliments a simple bowl of chili.

 

A Dead Man Inspired me to Become a HANC

Mountain at Flat Rock NCOn a trip to North Carolina, my husband treated me with a visit to Connemara, Carl Sandburg’s home in Flat Rock. I researched the historical site online before we visited the 248-acre property that Mr. Sandburg called a “village” and his wife called “a million acres of sky” now managed by the National Park Service. The website, while thorough, did not prepare me for the inspiration that came shortly after we joined the guided tour already in progress when we arrived.

kiosk at cannemara

 

Known as America’s Voice, Carl Sandburg was more than a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet who legitimized free verse, recorded folk stories and spoke for those too weak to whimper. He wrote what some consider the comprehensive biography of Abraham Lincoln despite being told that poets had no business writing serious prose. He turned every no he heard into more than a yes; he turned them into personal success.

 

kiosk at cannemara working man

 

 

The wandering poet pursued writing seriously with the encouragement of a college professor. A West Point dropout, Mr. Sandburg also left Lombard College without a degree and became active in politics, advocating for the end of child labor and protesting the exploitation of laborers.

 

handwritten letter to Sandburg

 

Sandburg spent two months wooing and winning the affections of Lillian Steichen, a woman who initially did not find him appealing. The tour included quotes from some of their correspondence and made me renew my resolve to write more hand-scribed letters to those most dear to me, though I will bear in mind the social mores of our current technological era.

 

corner bookshelves at Sandburg home

The 20th century was only eight years old when Sandburg wrote his first love letter; the Kennedy administration a recent memory when he died. In the 21st century, lovers and business people, brothers and sisters, friends and strangers communicate electronically, using tools and technology unknown to Sandburg. He frequently shared information with friends and newcomers to his social circle by placing a copy of something he’d read in their hands during a handshake. Knowing this, inspires me to share more relevant information with my readers.

Sandburg bookshelf with ladder

 

The only rooms not lined with bookshelves were the bathrooms and the kitchen. Just looking at his personal library, I was inspired to read even more. Sandburg’s daughter, Margaret, was also his librarian. The family brought more than 17,000 books in the move from Illinois to North Carolina. Most of the books and periodicals in place at the time of Sandburg’s death at age 89 remain as they were in 1967 and reflect the political and social environment of that era.

magazines

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nature window frame

As we walked through the three-story home, the guide pointed out the lack of curtains. Sandburg’s wife, Lillian, had said that windows were meant to frame nature, not hide it.

window frames mountain

Although the “Poet of the People” read and wrote in nearly every room of his home, Carl Sandburg chose a dark office without a view of Mount Pisgah, which he said was too distracting. He also chose to write at night, when his mind was sharpest, though he was still a devoted father and husband.

NATIONAL PARK SERVICE

Inscribed on one of the plaques at the entrance to the park is one of Sandburg’s quotes.

 

“There is a place for me somewhere, where I can write and speak much as I can think and make it pay for my living and some besides. Just where this place is I have small idea now, but I am going to find it.”

 

Sandburg typewriter

As most writers, I have also yearned for that place somewhere, a place where I can also write and speak as much as I can think, a place that will pay for my living with a little extra. Until my visit to Connemara, I knew that I would eventually find my place to write, though I had no clue how to begin my search. I only knew my current situation did not provide what I needed. Without knowing I’d even been inspired, twenty-four hours later, I’d found my place.

 

Sandburg lake at fence

 

 

Returning from North Carolina to its southern sister, the tranquility and beauty of Carl and Lillian Sandburg’s home had eased my concerns. For the first time in years, I loosed myself of the shackles of my own work-a-day woes. I was on a holiday from my day job and I wasn’t concerned with writing or editing or even photography. I enjoyed the views and the fresh mountain air.

yellow house in the country

Then I walked into my mother’s modest home. Perfectly cool on a warm  April day, initially; within a few minutes, she’d flipped the thermostat from its air conditioner setting over to heat. Fifteen minutes later, she complained she was overheated, a cycle that repeated. She seemed more agitated and forgetful than I recalled from our visit with her just a few days earlier and my husband and I noticed other signs that led us to a simple conclusion.

 

We must move in with her.

 

sunset through tree house backyard

The easiest hard decision we have made as a couple will return me to my childhood roots and the place where the seeds of my writing had been sown.

We must say goodbye to suburban living near a large city and prepare to embrace the isolation of rural life in a small county.

 

I will become my mother’s HANC because I can’t yet accept the fact that she needs a live-in caregiver. So, I will be her Housekeeper, Activity director, Nutritionist and Companion.

 

rooster in house

 

We will  trade our close-knit city neighborhood for a pastoral setting that is part redneck, part hillbilly – everything I have struggled to overcome for years. I am intrigued how the rural setting I longed to leave fifteen years ago, now feels exactly like the place I need to be.

rocking chair

 

Perhaps Carl Sandburg had it right all along. My mother’s home will be that “place for me somewhere, where I can write and speak much as I can think and make it pay for my living and some besides.”

Testimony Ann ZTestimony Lucy

Okay, so I’m also an editor. Testimony John

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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