Mushrooms are coming up! Isn’t this one adorable? There is a huge web of mycelium in our part of the world, which spreads destructive fungi, like the oak wilt that is taking down our live oaks, and helpful fungi, like the cute mushroom you see here. I suppose all fungi are both helpful and destructive in their own ways, since they all recycle dead things back into the soil, and we need that.
A fun fact about mushrooms is that now that scientists have mapped the genomes of so many species of plants and animals they have confirmed that mushrooms are their own special kingdom, neither plant nor animal, but something else. That something else is genetically closer to animals than plants.
The question can now be definitively answered: Are you more like a tree or a mushroom? You are more like a mushroom. Come to think of it, I can see the similarity. Sometimes when it looks like there is not much there the night before, you spring up and voila! You are there the next morning, complete with the people equivalent of a cap and stem and gills, as if you had been standing there all along.
Caring for a terminally ill person is a mushroom-y sort of life. At some level you are keeping the person alive, but at another level you are gently helping them return to the earth. They may not like it. You may not like it. It’s just what is happening.
You did not ask for this; you just sprung up and suddenly there was work to be done. You love a person who is closing out his life, something he too did not choose. You are the person standing beside him as he slowly returns to the earth.
There is no best way to usher a person from this life to the next. You can take him on a lovely hike in the morning, prepare his favorite sandwich for a picnic lunch, and arrange beautiful flowers in a vase on the dinner table, but even with your best efforts, he is going to have a rough go of it. That is the conundrum for his soul to work through, and you cannot help with that.
How you will care for yourself while caring for him is the challenge for you. You will only be able to do this work if your body and soul are nourished and tenderly cared for. Caring for yourself is as big a priority as caring for him.
Maybe it is annoying that I keep harping on this. I am willing to be annoying if only you will take care of yourself the way you would want me to if I were in your shoes.
You know Annie already, since you met her as part of the tech support team, but I thought you might want to know her story. We got Annie from the Houston SPCA, which despite its noble mission and caring staff is one of the saddest places on earth.
We knew Annie was there because we knew the family that had her before us. When I heard they had taken her to the pound I was distressed. She is part pitbull, so they might not think she was adoptable. We had two dogs already, but the next day I left work early to get to the SPCA before it closed.
There was hardly anyone there at closing time on a weekday, so I walked back to the kennel area and went from room to room, looking for Annie. In the fourth and final room, there she was. I almost didn’t recognize her. She didn’t recognize me either, barking and throwing herself at the door of the cage. I let her out and she calmly walked to the door. I opened that and let her into the yard. She still didn’t acknowledge me. I put her in an outdoor pen and told her I would be back for her, then went in to sign the adoption papers.
After the paperwork, I started to go back to where I had left her, when a staff member stopped me, saying the public was not allowed in that area. That was odd, since I had just been there, but I told him where I had left her, and he brought her out to me on a leash.
I walked her through the front door and into the parking lot. When I opened the back door of the car for her to jump in, she stopped, turned around, and looked into my face for the first time. I saw a flicker of hope in her dark eyes.
She slept for the entire drive home. When I slowed the car in the driveway, she stood up with her paws on the center console looking through the window.
She smelled like the fear of a thousand dogs. Mark bathed her. We gave her some food, and she snuggled into a warm blanket for the night.
Annie is about twelve now. She has white around her eyes and in her muzzle. She is wary of strangers, fiercely defending the Bossy Spa from intruders by barking to announce the arrival of newcomers. Once she gets to know you, she will sit quietly beside you, asking for nothing, just being there.
Annie is grateful for food in her bowl, for the companionship of her rambunctious friend Ginger, and for the squirrels in the yard that make for an exciting day. She likes wading in the creek, where she learned to swim a few days after we brought her home.
You have already figured out that we put her on the tech support team because of a lack of alternatives, but she is able to let the issues pile up without getting flustered. We could all learn a thing or two from Annie.
A huge clump of mistletoe is growing in the mesquite tree above the stone caregiver cottage at the Bossy Spa. Imagine what that means this holiday season. Anyone under the mistletoe can be kissed during the holidays, and the Universe has seen fit to hang mistletoe for you and all caregivers.
Did you know that mistletoe blooms? It gets tiny white flowers on it. I don’t see flowers on this clump, but we are starting to see the first blooms as we tromp around the property. So pretty!
Anyway, you may think that because you spend so much of your energy on the tasks of chronic caregiving that you have probably rendered yourself unkissable. Not so. Here is your cottage, the whole thing squarely under the mistletoe. Who can argue with that?
It’s a sign that boldly proclaims: YOU ARE WORTHY OF LOVE. You should write “I am worthy of love” on a slip of paper and carry it around today in your pocket or purse or shoe. You need this reminder. Otherwise you might get to feeling unworthy, and that would just be dumb.
Today the Bossy Spa is dispensing not just virtual hugs but also virtual kisses. So here is your hug … mmmmm. And here is your kiss … mwa!
As the bustle of the holidays kicks up another notch, we experience more than the joys of the season. There is real work to be done, food to prepare, and presents to buy. Maybe it is fun to bake a fruitcake, but maybe it is a pain. Do the fun parts and let the rest of it fall by the wayside.
You are under the mistletoe all day, and if love were enough to make this happen, whoever hung the mistletoe will make sure you get kissed by something unexpected and good.
This may look like a wild tangle of winter grass and green bits of nothing in particular, but I assure you it is photo worthy. This is an olive tree sapling. Our parents bought it from an olive farm here in central Texas. Their friend’s daughter is the proprietor of the place.
I planted it in April, a terrible time of year to put in a tree, which will barely have time to settle in before the formidable summer heat. When I dumped the dirt out of the five gallon pot, the tree came out with the roots compressed into a four inch square. It had clearly just been put in this larger pot, but the roots had not had time to spread out. Sometimes little things transplant better, so I watered faithfully on the weekends, slacking off when the weather started cooling in the fall.
The tree is outside the yard, and the first time I planted in this spot I put in a Leyland cypress, thinking it would make a good growing Christmas tree. It got eaten by the sheep, so I asked Mark to put in fencing around the spot and planted a small Arbequina olive tree. When I dumped out that pot, it was evident that the tree was a cutting that had not been properly rooted. When it died, I put in what I thought was a red mulberry, which turned out to be a white mulberry. The birds liked the fruit, but the tree did not survive the heat and drought of its first summer.
This is not the most hopeful track record for a tree to survive in this spot, but I am feeling pretty good about my little tree’s chances. It has gotten through the first summer. It is a species that, once established, is tolerant of drought and cold. It is a towering two feet tall.
From where I am sitting on the front porch swing, my view of this olive tree is blocked by tall grass. A tree that can be blocked by grass is not so impressive from far away, but up closer, you can see it looks healthy and robust.
My neighbor visited Israel, where she saw lovely, gnarled, olive trees that have lived more than 600 years. Even things that get off to a shaky start can be beautiful and enduring. One day in the year 2617 someone may find this tree, so far from its native range, and wonder how it got here and survived so long.
It is hard to be a caregiver in a situation that offers little hope for improvement. It feels much better to cheer for something that might actually win, like my little tree. I will keep you updated on its progress, and some day I hope to send you a jar of olives.
If you write a note of encouragement to my tree I will be sure it is delivered.
Amazing! We have clematis blossoms growing on the arbor after several nights of freezing temperatures. I think the arbor must provide some shelter that keeps the area beneath it a little warmer, but it got down to 24 degrees last week, so this must be a small miracle served up by Glenda, the goddess in charge of minor miracles for caregivers. She must have thought we just couldn’t wait till spring to see flowers.
I planted this clematis vine five years ago. I strung the arbor with hay string, since this is a grasping vine, to help it climb to the top. Just now, with these December flowers, it has finally reached the top. As any caregiver knows, you can’t get anywhere without support.
You can see how silly the blue hay string looks in the picture, but imagine next spring when the vine makes its way across the top of the arbor for the first time. Eventually the stems may get more stout, and I’ll be able to take the string down, but for now the vine needs something to hold onto.
At the same time I planted this, I put in an identical vine on the other side of the arbor. I thought the two would race each other to the top and meet in the middle. That vine has lived, but oddly has not thrived. It too has green leaves on it, but it is just four inches tall and has never flowered. I think it is going to eventually grow, especially with this vine as such a fine example, but I’m not sure what it will take.
There is a nice redundancy in having that small unnoticeable vine across from the big showy one. It’s a backup plan if something goes wrong with the first one. That small plant must have deep roots to have survived, even though it hasn’t climbed very high. You never know which plant is going to make it, so I like having more than one.
I love how you have taken the same approach with getting support for caregiving. You found a good place where you can take your patient one day a week; you have a neighbor that checks in sometimes while you are at work; and you have a student that comes by a few days a week. In addition to this practical help you have scheduled regular time for lunch with two kind friends who are also caregivers. Having taken these steps to ensure good support, I expect you will be a vine that gets to the top of the arbor and flowers in winter.
We have the sweetest horses at the Bossy Spa. Meet Magic and Barkley. I have other pictures where you can see them better, but I chose this picture for a reason. In this picture they are having breakfast just after sunrise.
What is important about this is that Barkley, the black horse, has been sick. When the vet gave him a 25% chance of survival and suggested the best option might be to euthanize him, I cried. She said she had seen only one horse in hundreds of cases who had survived after not responding to the initial treatment she had given.
Barkley is not a candidate for surgery because he is 25 years old. That is about like 75 years old for a person. There was only one more treatment option, which the vet did not think would succeed, and that involved putting him in the hospital.
I decided that if he was going to die, I wanted him to be in the fields that he loved with the sun on his back and the wind in his face. I said no to the hospital idea.
My husband Mark walked him for hours through the fields, hoping the motion would help with his intestinal obstruction. When he would lie down in pain, I massaged his belly until he would stand up again. I groomed him with no medical purpose. He just liked to be groomed.
One time he lay down with his face in a pile of horse poop, and didn’t bother to move. That is a sick horse.
By afternoon of the day of the beautiful sunrise that I showed you yesterday, Barkley wanted to eat. I gave him a flake of hay, a risky move that might stimulate his digestion, but might block him up further. After he finished eating and the sun went down, I went to bed, hoping for the best.
In the morning I delayed going out. If there was bad news, it could wait. When I stepped out onto the back porch, Magic and Barkley were walking in from the fields, like it was a regular day.
I put feed in their buckets and when they dropped their heads for breakfast I took this picture. It is the first breakfast Barkley has eaten in days.
If you didn’t know the story you might not see how lovely this photo is, but look, two horses, bodies relaxed, peacefully munching. What more beautiful sight is there in all the world.
The sun rises over the ridge at the Bossy Spa, so it gets to us a little later than if the land were flat. That gives us a few extra minutes of sleep every day, part of the magic of this place. If you are staying in the little stone cottage and leave your shutter door open, the rays of light stream through the glass door and gently awaken you.
The morning of this beautiful sunrise I was worried. Barkley, one of the horses, had been sick. I will introduce you to Barkley in a later post, but I want you to know he shocked the veterinarian by getting well on the very day of this sunrise.
I took my phone out with me when I went to check on him. I needed to focus on something other than whether he would get well, so I thought about you and finding beautiful things to take pictures of while I walked out to the pasture.
I am sharing this sunrise with you because for me it was a symbol of hope. Bad things happen, but our days also hold the possibility of goodness, forgiveness, and joy. At the time of this sunrise, I was not too hopeful, but there was the sky, having a different idea.
My horse too had a different idea, and when I came upon him in the early light, he was standing up, not writhing in pain like the vet suggested he would be. He was not fully out of the woods, but he was refusing to adhere to the dire predictions. I could hardly believe it.
I am sending you this sunrise of hope. There are many reasons you could feel hopeless in your situation. You love and care for someone with a cruel and incurable disease, and there is precious little more hopeless than that. But sometimes the sky has a different idea. Things may unfold in some other way than the grim way things look like they are going.
You can crush hope as a way of managing your expectations, but it has a way of bubbling up through the cracks of your defenses. I could feel that when I saw this sunrise. Through the tears and sleeplessness of the previous night, the tiny glimmer of hope refused to be put down.
When a glimmer of hope bubbles up within you, not the false hope from the annoying person who gives you their recipe for the oatmeal muffins that cured Grandpa Joe Bob of Alzheimer’s, but real hope that springs up in your heart, let it be. Maybe that hope will make one day a little easier.
I have been working on getting a picture of the neighbor’s calves. Their fuzzy black winter coats make it hard to photograph them, especially because they like to hang out in the deep shade under an oak tree. All those dark colors make for a modern art picture of black on black. Perhaps I should submit one of my pictures for display at the Guggenheim.
The calves are scared of me when I first come up to the fence, and they run away, but one is very brave. She runs too, but then looks back and stops. She slowly approaches me. The other calves follow a few steps behind. When I took this picture she came as close as she ever has, and was even kind enough to lead the others to a sunny spot, instead of under the tree.
Calves manage to be cute and fuzzy even though they weigh about 500 pounds, which should give hope to all of us about how cute it is possible to be. Do you have to lose 300+ pounds to be cute? I think not. Perhaps you could just stop shaving and be fuzzier. You notice we rarely give glamour advice at the Bossy Spa, since few caregivers are focused on that, but this is a tip you might actually use.
When you next bring your dog to the Bossy Spa, we will walk together to visit these neighbor calves, who live about a mile away. Your dog will bark madly to protect you from them, but they will be unperturbed. It is you they will find more scary, but you are kind and good, and they will sense that and eventually follow the bravest calf up to the fence to see you.
Whatever you are doing throughout your day, remember these adorable, shy, fuzzy calves. Your life may not be serving up the recommended daily allowance of cute fuzziness, but don’t worry, these calves will be here all day.