Category Archives: Caregiving

Scribble Scrabble

Today, I was playing Scrabble with Granny P, one of my clients. This is the same client who taught me to play pinochle, with the help of her two younger sisters. The first time we played Scrabble, Granny P beat me 310 to 170. I told her today that I wanted a rematch.

Boy did I get one. She beat me 404 to 182.

This is potentially demoralizing for someone with a very expensive English degree. Fortunately, I have a theory that success in Scrabble requires equal parts vocabulary skills, visual-spatial intelligence, and luck. I have the first one nailed, the last two not so much.

The important thing is that we had fun.



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Laughter is the best medicine

I wasn’t feeling well on Friday. Nothing major, just PMS, sleep deprivation, and frazzled nerves from trying to teach math to two classes full of noisy, needy sixth graders. I did *not* look forward to cafeteria duty sixth period.

Then one of the teachers announced that it was “Open Mic Friday.” I thought, “Well, this is going to be interesting.” I heard many more renditions of One Direction (aka The British Backstreet Boys; try saying that five times fast) songs than I wanted. I was also scratching my head about not one, but two preteen girls singing “Rolling In The Deep.” (You’re 12. What do you know about “a fire starting in your heart reaching a fever pitch?” If you know, you shouldn’t.)

Apart from that, the experience was great fun, not to be confused with fun., whose “Some Nights” and “We Are Young” were also popular. Some kids opted for silly songs and gave me a much-needed laugh; others were surprisingly good, despite being in the throes of puberty and all the associated vocal changes. I went to seventh period in a much better frame of mind.

I also got some great laughs during my shift today with Ruby Tuesday. While we did some organizing and cleaning for her upcoming move, we watched “Betty White’s Off Their Rockers.” This show features the beloved star of “Hot In Cleveland” and a motley crew of senior citizens playing practical jokes on their surprised juniors. Some pranks are elaborate; the scene where a suit-clad older gentleman joins a young couple at an outdoor cafe and engages in a conversation straight out of a spy movie comes to mind. Most are reminiscent of  “Police Academy” or “National Lampoon’s Animal House.” In one scene, a woman sits down in a train station with an urn containing what seems to be her late husband’s ashes, opens the urn, and then sneezes, spilling ashes on the young woman next to her; in another, a man posing as a police officer threatens a jogger with a “farting violation.”

Though I’m not usually a fan of reality TV, I thoroughly enjoyed this show. I forgot I had cramps, Ruby was in a good mood, and we had a productive afternoon.

While I deal with serious issues in my work, I’m blessed to have many opportunities to laugh. As crabby as Mrs. A gets sometimes, she still surprises me with wry comments or ribald jokes even when she’s feeling her worst. Little One used to crack me up on a regular basis; on one day, she was leaving a long, rambling voicemail for her father about what color violin she wanted, and I was laughing so hard that Big Sister looked at me like I was losing my marbles and asked me if I were OK.

I forget to yell at a student who’s misbehaving because his or her antics are making me laugh. Laughter breaks the ice with an overwhelmed teenager who’s skeptical about tutoring and not happy about fitting it in his or her schedule. Sharing a joke or a funny story with an older person makes both of us feel positive.

“Laughter is a universal connection.” — Yakov Smirnoff


Filed under Caregiving, Teaching

Tuesday musings on a Thursday

“You do know how to play pinochle?” Mr. D eyed me suspiciously.
“I’m afraid not,” I said.
“I’m afraid not, sir,” he said.
“Well,” he told me, “it is, along with gladiator fighting and Pac-Man, one of the greatest games ever invented by humans. I would expect all civilized young men to know the rules.”
Rick Riordan, The Lightning Thief

If you haven’t guessed, I spent part of Tuesday learning how to play pinochle.

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Until I started my caregiving job . . .

I was convinced that some of my relatives are the most stubborn human beings I know. I’m almost positive that stubbornness is the #1 export of my maternal grandmother’s birthplace, even if it’s not listed in the CIA World Factbook. 

Then I met Mrs. K (not her real initial), my newest client. Given that she is a nonagenarian woman with a disability (Mrs. K has a hearing impairment), a healthy amount of tenacity is crucial, even admirable. She’s lived in her own house for a long time and was driving until a recent health scare. That said, because of said health scare, she’s under doctor’s orders to slow down a bit. She’s used to doing her own housekeeping, and she got very agitated the first time I washed the dishes for her. It took another day for her to let me take out the trash. I had to clean the refrigerator while she was asleep this morning, and when I vacuumed this afternoon, she reacted almost the way my cats do (although she did recover more quickly).

Now I know from stubborn. My Mom and I both inherited a rather generous amount of stubbornness, and some of my other clients have their moments, too. I’ve found that while sometimes I do have to be direct (i.e., “I’m being paid to help you out. Please let me help you.”), often a more subtle approach works better. For example, I made vegetable soup in the Crock-Pot yesterday, with the intention of bringing it for my lunch today. Instead, this morning, I had a brainwave and filled up a container with enough soup for both of us. When I arrived at Mrs. K’s, I stuck it in the fridge while she wasn’t looking. That was supper tonight, a change from her usual, which is either a sandwich, fast food or Applebee’s.

Now to figure out a subtle way to take her grocery shopping, since she won’t let me go without her . . .

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Ruby Tuesday

Ruby Tuesday is one of my longest-standing clients. She gets her nickname from my second-favorite Rolling Stones song, and specifically the lyric, “Don’t question why she needs to be so free.” She is the youngest of my clients (mid-60s), but often gives me the biggest headaches and the most new gray hairs. She can also be the most entertaining and interesting.


Ruby grew up a military brat and spent a good deal of her formative years traveling, including overseas. She was raised in a popular but often misunderstood faith, and after her marriage adopted a less well-known but even more misunderstood faith. She had several professional careers and raised three children and a stepchild more or less on her own.


When her physical and mental health started to decline several years ago, the loss of her independence was devastating for her. She went from living in her own home to moving through several assisted living facilities. She moved to my city at the insistence of her daughter who lives here but rarely sees the daughter in question. I’ve observed the two of them interacting, and there’s a lot of stubbornness and intolerance on both sides. There’s also genuine love and concern. I actually told Ruby once, “You two obviously love each other, but you both have funny ways of showing it.”


Ruby can be manipulative and judgmental at times. So can we all. She’s also honest and open about what’s on her mind and how she’s feeling. Unlike some of my other clients, I don’t have to draw her out and ask, “What’s going on?” She comes right out and tells me. She delights in simple joys: a sandwich from her favorite local shop where they greet her with a “Hi honey,” her cat’s latest antics, finding the perfect gift for her granddaughter, getting a manicure. She understood when I was late one evening because I was rounding up wayward puppies. (Long story.) She laughed with me at my account of her destroyed birthday cake. (Don’t use a silicone cake pan for the first time when you’re making a cake for someone else. It will not go well.)


As crazy as she makes me, I genuinely love her. I’m grateful to be her favorite caregiver, as she often tells me.


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Better than the World Series of Poker.

Four days this week, I got paid to play cards for the better part of the day. No, there was no gambling involved. Yes, my employer is fine with this. I picked up a new client this week, and one of the first things that one of her regular caregivers asked me was, “Do you play cards?” I learned rummy, euchre, and poker as a preteen more than 20 years ago, so I’ve had a lot of practice, but not nearly as much as my client, who is the same age as my grandparents. She beat me consistently.

This was especially rewarding because my client is hearing-impaired, and I don’t know American Sign Language. (She does lip-read well, though, and we also communicate in writing.) Playing cards was a way to communicate and get to know each other. She told me she’s looking forward to my coming back on Monday.

While the pot may not be as big as the ones professional gamblers win, there’s a priceless payoff every time.

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Dear Mom,

Today’s WordPress prompt is to write a letter to your mother and tell her something you’ve always wanted but haven’t been able to.

Dear Mom:

Happy upcoming 66th birthday (my Mom’s birthday is three days before Christmas). If we were Chinese, I’d buy you a chicken and cut it up 66 times in order to ward off trouble in the coming year. (Source: If I could protect you from difficulties in some way, I would. But you don’t need protection.

At my age, you were raising Renaissance Guy (my brother) and me, working nights at a demanding job, taking care of a house, nurturing a strong marriage with Dad, and still making time to be a second mother to our cousins and the neighbor kids. You had it way more together than I do.

You still have it together. I watch how you do everything that needs done for my grandparents, and I know some day I’ll be taking care of you and Dad. I hope I’m up to the task. I see you with Medium Fry (nephew) and Small Fry (niece), and I learn there is more than one way to be a mother. I watch how you and Dad are best friends and true partners, and I pray I find someone with whom I can have that kind of relationship.

I envy you sometimes. I respect you always. Most of all, I love you, and I hope someday I’m half the woman you are.

Love, Renaissance Girl

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Filed under Caregiving, Family, Life, the Universe and Everything

Prayer requests

If you’re spiritually inclined, please send up a prayer or send out positive vibes for my client Mrs. A. She’s in the hospital, and the doctor doesn’t want to send her home till her heart rate stabilizes. She is in remarkably good spirits (and is very happy with the nurse who smuggled her a single piece of real bacon) but wants to get back home.

Also, please do the same for my client Ruby Tuesday (not her real name). She and her daughter have a very complicated relationship, to put it mildly, and it’s going to become even more strained during the next two months.

Thank you.


Filed under Caregiving, Spirituality


There are days when I wonder, “Why am I doing this? Why am I not in a ‘real’ job with benefits and a set schedule?”

By the way, I hate the phrase “real job.” If you work, you have a “real job.” Full stop. My definition of “work” includes paid work, raising children, caring for parents or other elderly or ill family, volunteering, attending school, or looking diligently for work.

But I digress.

Then, there are days when I get to watch a teenage boy with a severe developmental disability play the triangle and conduct an invisible orchestra while Ferrante and Teicher’s “The Little Drummer Boy” plays on the radio. Moments later, I see a teenage girl who rarely expresses emotion or interest in her surroundings smiling as she watches her classmate’s impromptu performance.

That’s when I think, “Ah, that’s why.”

I am so blessed.

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Tuesday musings – 11/27/2012

I’m a bad blogger. I’ve not only neglected my own blog, I’ve also gotten behind on the blogs I follow. I’m working to change that.

In the meantime:

“Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” — Theodore Roosevelt

“Work is love made visible.” — Khalil Gibran

“To find joy in work is to discover the fountain of youth.” — Pearl S. Buck


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