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Wet

Wet

My new phone can get wet! Apparently it is made to go underwater because the most frequent reason that people gave for needing a replacement phone was they dropped it in the toilet. Imagine all those awful toilet drops resulting in the goodness of a waterproof phone.

I wondered whether the camera would still work under water, and I knew you wouldn’t want a picture of what is in the … well, never mind. I headed down to the creek.

This picture is the result of my setting a ten-second delay on the phone, clicking the shutter and quickly submerging the phone in the creek. There is no time to aim, and the fish head for the shadows as soon as there is a splash. They got used to my silly splashing and after awhile some stayed for the photo shoot.

I have been looking at this creek for ten years, and am amazed to see what is under water. It is like a whole new world, all fuzzy and green. This got me thinking about what things might be in my world that I might see with a new perspective.

I remember when I was caregiving for my aunt who had Alzheimer’s, the assisted living facility asked her about signing a medical order to prevent her from being resuscitated if she were to die. I didn’t want her to sign it and told the administrator that if everyone in the facility were to die I wanted them to resuscitate my aunt first. My aunt picked up a pen and signed the order saying, “When your time is up, it’s up.” She clearly knew what she was signing.

On the surface my aunt was confused about bills and names and faces, but underneath she was crystal clear about life and death. She knew what she wanted. It mattered to her, and she stepped beyond her limitations to weigh in.

It is hard to know what lies beneath the surface when someone you love has a terminal condition, especially if they are mentally compromised. Maybe like my creek, they are teeming with life in there, but it just doesn’t get to the surface. Maybe the life does break through to the surface, like it did when my aunt signed her documents.

Since you can’t know, and you are the one making the decisions, you are just doing the best you can for yourself and for your loved one. There is no perfectly right path. Today you are to forgive yourself for the mistakes you have made and for the ones you will make in the future.

Donation

Donation

The phone I have been using to take pictures for the Bossy Spa has been donated to the Smithsonian for its exhibit called Technology of the Ancients. I will miss having to recharge it by tying it to a hamster wheel, but I am sure I will adjust.

I have been graced with a phone from the current era which has rendered me more annoying than an adolescent, carrying my phone with me wherever I go. As a result I have a new bank of pictures, with surprising crispness and clarity.

This tiny yellow plant is a baby mistletoe. You probably know that mistletoe is a parasite that gets its nutrients by putting roots into a host plant. In this case its host plant is a bare mesquite tree. A full-grown mesquite can host several large balls of mistletoe without sustaining major harm, but too much mistletoe can kill a tree.

This little mistletoe is just starting out. By next year it will be a full round ball with white blooms around the new year.

You can live like a mesquite tree by taking on a few projects that look pretty but drain your energy. If you follow this path, you must not take on more than you can support and remain healthy or your whole system goes down.

Consider, though, living like the mistletoe. Nobody want to be a parasite, but how about putting your roots into something that has nutrition to spare? You’ll be higher up than you could get on your own; you’ll be nourished, and you’ll be supported. If you live this way, you just have to choose a good host environment.

Maybe that host environment is your neighborhood, your church, or your friends from the local pub. If there is enough nutrition to sustain you, you can thrive by sinking  your roots into that rich support.

There is nothing wrong with depending on a community for help. You can rely heavily on others to assist you and still be a symbol of love at the holidays. Mistletoe demonstrates that you don’t have to do everything on your own.

Silhouette

Silhouette

When you look at water, sometimes you see the surface and sometimes you see past the surface into the depth. Undoubtedly this has to do with how the light reflects off the water. In this picture the sunlight penetrates to the sandy creek bottom instead of bouncing off the surface. If you look closely, you can see the silhouette of a fish.

I have taken many pictures of the creek, since there are so many pretty spots along it, but this is the first time I have gotten a fish to show up for the party. I am as excited to see him as the paparazzi are to get a photo of their favorite celebrity.

We call this kind of fish Guadalupe bass, but the online images of that species don’t completely look like our fish. I heard someone called our fish a bluegill sunfish, but their online pictures don’t look quite like our fish either. If you are a fish identifier please clear up the mystery. You may need a clearer picture first.

When I first glanced at the picture, I didn’t notice the fish. I only saw if after I spent time sorting through the various shots from the day. When good things show up below the surface, they are not always obvious. They might just be a faint silhouette that tells you there was a fish right there beneath you.

Caregiving can bring you from the surface to the depths pretty quickly. It’s a good thing. You can try to stay superficially chipper, but it just doesn’t work in the relentless grind that caregiving can be, especially if your patient is someone you deeply love. You might as well go to the depths.

The depths are where you experience what you are really feeling and not what you think you ought to feel. So you might feel discouraged or resentful or hopeful, but you might believe you should be feeling fine. Drop the idea that you should feel a particular way. You just feel how you do. So if you are mad, that’s just how it is. If you are grateful, that is how it is.

Feelings aren’t all neat and tidy. You can feel loads of things at the same time, some of them contradictory. You can feel resentful and despairing and joyful and annoyed all in one minute. You have permission to feel whatever crops up, so please give yourself a break about that.

No browbeating yourself today or any other day for feeling things that don’t meet with your approval. All your feelings are hereby approved.

Rosette

Rosette

I wished to post roses for you today, but the roses are not blooming right now.  The next best thing are the fuzzy grayish plants that we call lamb’s ear, which make big leafy rosettes, the flowers of winter.

In spring this plant will send up a tall stalk with pale yellow flowers. When the flowers die back, the stalk fills with seeds, a nice source of food for birds in the fall.

Somehow the beautiful foliage survives the winter cold. Maybe the fuzzy jacket helps. You can buy these plants and find instructions on gardening web sites telling you how to grow them, but ours just come up by themselves, a few feet from wherever they were the year before. If they come up in the middle of the yard, I ask Mark to mow around them since they are so pretty.

I’ve read that the native Americans used the soft leaves of this plant to bandage wounds, and I have wrapped cuts with them, securing the leaf with first aid tape, when I was short of band-aids. They are soft and absorbent and apparently have antiseptic qualities.

Getting wounded is unavoidable. Even if you never leave your house you can be wounded, both physically and emotionally. So it makes no sense to organize yourself around not getting wounded. It’s just not possible to ensure you are successful at this.

Sure, avoid being reckless, but also have a plan for what you will do when you are inevitably hurt. Look for something in your environment that has healing properties like lamb’s ear.

Caregiving comes with a full dose of emotional wounding. Maybe you are looking after your mother, whose dementia has progressed to the level where last week for the first time she didn’t recognize you. Of course you know this is not personal, just the progression of her disease, but in your heart it feels terrible and rejecting. Does this mean she doesn’t know you have been visiting every day? Probably that is just what it means.

Wounds like this run deep, and they crop up unexpectedly. If you are a caregiver you will be wounded again. Have an emotional first aid kit ready. Who will you call when you feel like the wind just got knocked out of you? What can you read that will help you stay centered through this difficult time? How can you staunch emotional bleeding and start to promote healing?

A healing remedy like lamb’s ear may just pop up in your environment. Maybe you discover an emotionally robust neighbor who knows how to be there for you. You may have to go looking for this first aid kit, though, at least parts of it. Check your support network today. If your first aid kit is a bit bare, add a few supplies so you will be well cared for when you need it most.

Donkeys

Donkeys

What could be more adorable than my neighbor’s miniature donkeys? When we walk in our back pasture we often spot them out grazing. They are shy at first, but then curiosity wins out and they walk slowly toward us. Only one is brave enough to let me touch him through the fence, but I can scratch his back and stroke his soft furry face. I love their big heads and dainty feet.

Cousin Gerry was on the walk with me when we saw the donkeys. As you know he is an excellent photographer and took this beautiful shot of the three donkeys in a row. He did some photo editing and showed me a few things, so hopefully my photos will improve. In the meantime he was happy to share his charming picture.

Our neighbor who keeps the donkeys takes in animals of all kinds. He is the one who gets the call to bottle feed a calf if its mother is not able to care for it. If there is a creature in need he tends to say yes to helping, which sometimes means years of care. He leads with his heart, and a passel of animals is the result.

I don’t know how he ended up with these miniature donkeys, but he has had them for several years. They are not productive in any discernible way, but their cuteness is considerable as you can see. Hard to imagine saying no to them.

Our neighbor’s place is like assisted living for animals. He is not a professional caregiver, since there is no pay for what he does, but he is a habitual caregiver. Having so many animals makes it hard to travel, but he finds a way to get a break from time to time.

Over time you will meet more of our neighbor’s menagerie, but the donkeys are my favorite. Being a caregiver of animals and not people may make it easier for my neighbor to maintain his separation and not just merge his whole person into giving care. Still, it is worth considering how he copes.

He has about 45 acres of land, which is big by city standards, but the land only sustains so many animals. When he doesn’t have room for a new addition he says no. He is not willing to put himself and all the animals in his care in jeopardy in order to take care of every problem for others.

Saying no is an important skill for a caregiver. It is only by refusing to take on every problem that he can help solve the problems he has agreed to take on. You can see how this is true for my neighbor, but can you see how this is true for you?

You are stretched pretty thin right now with taking care of your loved one and yourself. It is not a failure to say no, even to someone in need. You may not be the right person to say yes right now. Please heed the example of my generous-hearted neighbor and say no to taking on a new thing that might overwhelm your ability to deal with the things for which you are already responsible.

You deserve that, you know.

Bench

Bench

We put a wrought iron bench under the oaks overlooking the creek when a guest told us he planned to propose to his girlfriend the weekend they visited. After the successful proposal, we left the bench in place. It is an invitation to rest and enjoy the beauty of the surroundings.

Last summer I enjoyed a picnic with a friend on this bench, sharing cheese, tomato, and avocado sandwiches. A few days ago Mark and I stopped by and sat for a while on our way to complete errands at the cottages we rent out. A simple bench in nature welcomes rest and reflection.

When you sit on a bench out in nature, it seems like there is nothing on your list of things to do. Maybe dinner will be late, oh well. It seems to not matter whether your hair is combed or your socks match. You can deal with those things if the fashion police arrive, but they don’t seem to come much to spots like this.

Two years ago in the spring after the bluebonnets bloomed I harvested some seed pods and tossed them around this bench. Only a few sprouted. I think there is not enough sun in this spot. You never know, though, there may be a carpet of bluebonnets surrounding the bench in the spring.

The holiday bustle is coming to a close. The new year will be upon us before you know it. The demands of your daily life will settle into a new normal routine as your patient settles into how she will function for the next little while.

Pause for a moment. Find a quiet bench with a view. Rest there for a bit and let your mind wander to the events of the last year. Pat yourself on the back for all the good things you got done. This has been a pretty tough year. It is not quite over.

You have been a champ. You have dealt with others with your customary kindness and integrity. You have gotten some support for your caregiving role. You have made headway in the practical areas of dealing with medical bills and disability and wills and powers of attorney. Well done. Take time today to give yourself credit for all you have done.

Fred

Fred

If armadillos weren’t real, they would have been invented by a cartoonist. They are just that surprising and cute all at the same time. Armadillos don’t see at all well, which has kept me hopeful about sneaking up on one to take a picture. They have a great sense of smell, so you have to approach them from downwind.

After a few failed armadillo safaris to get a good picture, I was driving into town when there by the side of the road was Fred, the Christmas armadillo. Yes, yes, I know it is Christmas and we’ll get to that, but first I am going to finish my story about Fred.

So Fred was walking by the side of the road out in broad daylight, like he was a runway model hoping to attract a photographer. I leaped out of the truck in the middle of the road and walked slowly toward him taking closer and closer pictures as I went. He let me get quite close and then got to wondering. This is the moment when he thought there might be something around worth sniffing. He sat up on his haunches and sniffed hello.

He must have decided I was friendly enough, since he didn’t run, but he ambled back toward the fence, where I later found several dug out entrances to his burrow. Fred has armor on his back and tail, but he has a soft underbelly where he is vulnerable. In that way Fred is like most of us.

It is Christmas and today you are to gift yourself with the best day you can. Today is the day to use the bubble bath or take the walk or leave the dust bunnies under the couch. If you are with family, let other hands do the work. If you are alone, leave the work for another day and treat yourself to the kind of day you wish for.

Peace on earth starts when that tight place in your chest unclenches. It fills your heart and radiates from you outward. You cannot know how far it will travel, but it will reach me here. Blessings for peace, dear one, beginning with you.

Evergreen

Evergreen

The ashe juniper are full of berries, like Mother Nature decided to decorate the outdoors for Christmas Eve. The berries are edible, and taste just like the fragrant evergreen boughs smell. You can find recipes for fancy holiday poultry dishes that call for these berries.

When these trees bloom in the spring some people have an allergy to the pollen, which makes them unpopular, but at this time of year, they add festive berries and lovely holiday smells. They also play an important role in our native ecosystem as a host plant to the juniper hairstreak butterfly.

I have made wreaths with them in prior years, but this year I just tucked sprigs of fresh juniper into the light fixture over the dinner table. If you lie on your back on the table and look up, I bet it looks like a wreath. You already know I am a fan of less work, so the idea of making something wreath-ish this way was irresistible.

I know you don’t make a huge fuss at the holidays, but they can still be full of burdensome expectations. So today I am giving you homework. I know that is super mean and unfair on Christmas Eve, but this is the Bossy Spa, where we don’t hesitate to tell you what to do.

Your homework today is to think about tomorrow. Tomorrow you have a job, and today you must make a plan to carry out that job. You remember that day where you were going to make an awesome day for your loved one and do everything he liked and nothing he didn’t? You remember. You must make a plan today to make tomorrow that day for you.

You can’t because … and because … and because.., but you must do the best you can. Today, make a plan.