A Memory of Mesa, Arizona

There I was (before COVID-19), working at my computer in Barnes and Noble, when five people from a facility for the disabled arrived at the cafe.  One woman with Down syndrome, three men, and the supervisor made up the group.  Two men and the supervisor were engaged in an animated discussion about an error in their schedule.  The supervisor conversed loudly on her cell phone.  The woman with Down Syndrome hugged the man with gray hair, draping herself over him.  They kissed softly, and I remembered Ralph and Darla from Marc Center.

Ralph and Darla had Down Syndrome.  They were lovers, sweet and fun, and prone to sneaking away to neck in the back yard.  They lived in separate men’s and women’s apartments in a group home operated by Marc Center, in Mesa, Arizona.

Known as Marc Center (Mesa Association for Retarded Citizens, founded in 1957), this organization provided a job for me and housing for our family until my son was a year old.

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While my husband worked long days at the Veteran’s Administration, my job was to be the supervisor for the four men and four women who lived in two of the three apartments in our building.

I was on duty from 8:00 pm to 8:00 am.  The eight residents went to work in the morning, and returned at about 3:30 pm in the afternoon, when the life skills instructors arrived to guide everyone through daily chores and meal preparation.  Every other weekend, my husband and I were expected to provide some activities and outings.

Watching the supervisor and her charges here in Barnes and Noble, I was reminded of myself when I juggled new motherhood and the same job.  Memories returned, making me smile, and shake my head in wonder, amusement, and tenderness:

-the time Lenny set fire to the string in the bottom drawer of his dresser

-the many times Sylvia begged to hold my precious, new baby boy, and drooled with joy all over his head

-the time Duke put his fist through the plate glass window and I found him holding his bleeding wrist over the bathroom sink

-the thrilling success of arranging a trip home for Sylvia, who missed her family

-the time Lenny (again) stole Sylvia’s big tricycle and rode off into Mesa

-how the four men idolized The Fonz, and religiously watched Happy Days

-how hot and dry and brown it was in Arizona, and how much I missed green trees and the sea

I reflected on all that I learned from the residents and the life skills instructors.

Searching online, I found that Marc Center is alive and thriving.

Marc Community Resources, Inc. is a private nonprofit corporation providing educational, therapeutic, rehabilitation and social services to children and adults with developmental and, physical disabilities and behavioral health challenges.

 

 

 

The Slowest Spring

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In all the years before COVID-19, especially when I was working, spring flew by.  I did remark on the crocuses and daffodils, and the return of the birds.  But mostly it seemed that winter flowed directly into summer.

Now that we walk the same three routes, I SEE things: the ribbon of a garter snake just warmed up,

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the deer losing its winter coat.

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I stop and marvel at the lavish displays of the trees in bloom. I speculate on what that strange maroon sprout will become.  Peony?  The day-to-day changes are small, but now I notice them.

This has been the longest spring I can remember, because I’ve been immersed in it every day.  It has offered up a rich repast of beauty and curiosities.  And promises.

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Alien Rocks during Social Distancing

LKwXTqSHQ2OVpq+53n45EQAs we slog into week four of staying home, we borrowed an idea from my daughter’s neighborhood in Maryland.  We painted twelve alien rocks and placed them along a street behind the apartment complex.  We left a notice for the residents:

Hello, Kids of the Neighborhood  (and parents, too)

You are invited to  Find the Alien Rocks

It’s a kind of scavenger hunt game, but you don’t keep the rocks. There are 12 alien rocks hidden outside on Cicero Ave. Each one has a number on the bottom.

There is one important rule:

  1. Leave the rocks where you find them.

(Take a picture if you want to keep a record of your finds.)

This venture into rock-painting led us into more ambitious artwork:

And more elaborate:

Now we’ve put the paints away for a while as I’m engaged in sewing masks.  Lots of masks.

It’s still fun to spot the alien rocks when we take our daily walk.

The Irony of COVID-19

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Before COVID-19, I complained about the impact of caregiving on my freedom of movement and solitude.  I imagine you can guess where I’m going with this.

Back in the old days, before my husband’s memory loss forced him to retire, I could count on evenings alone at home.  He saw most of his clients after their workday, so I had time to recharge and to enjoy the solitude that I need as an introvert.

Then I became the caregiver.  Added to the responsibility of managing and remembering for two, I now lost alone time.  Eventually I pulled out of my funk and organized our lives to include social activities for both of us.  Though they didn’t offer me more solitude, these events eased the one-on-one at home.

Along came the corona virus.  No more social activities, at least not outside the house or in person.  Now I have a full-time audience along with commentator.  He remarks on the smallest things I do.

So, you get it, right?  I was frustrated and impatient before the social isolation.  Now, it’s so much harder.

But–I have to say that my husband, to his credit, is the most patient and kind person to live with.  He’s always willing to help, and doesn’t complain about the forced isolation.  Always expresses gratitude.  Never–I mean never–snaps back at me when I snap.

It could be worse, much worse, I tell myself.  Be grateful.

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Nyquist-Harcourt Wildlife Sanctuary: A Virtual Visit

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Tucked between Huguenot Street and the Wallkill River is the Nyquist-Harcourt Wildlife Sanctuary.

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fullsizeoutput_2255What flower is this?  Does anyone know?

fullsizeoutput_2256From the entrance on Huguenot Street, we cross a bridge.  Turtles are sunning on the little islands.

Boards are placed to cross the muddy parts.

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fullsizeoutput_2258 Places for birds to reside, and people to rest.

 

 

This is a beautiful, quiet place where we will wander–until the mosquitoes turn out in force.

Strange Fruit

The Peculiar Benefits of Staying at Home

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It occurred to me today that I was sleeping a lot better since being forced into self-isolation.  My moods are more even.  I’m not waking up at 4 a.m. with free-flowing anxiety.

The pressure is off.  Why?

I know for sure that our daily walks outdoors have helped.  The crisp air, the transportation of my own feet, the very CLOSENESS of everything, have changed my outlook.

But the cause goes deeper than just being outside. It involves a revolving cycle of anger, guilt and reparation.

A year ago last winter, I was so enraged by my situation as caregiver that I began taking an anti-depressant.  As the therapists say, depression is anger turned inward.  I was stuffing my anger and becoming depressed. All that boiling fury had nowhere to go except inside.  To friends, I would say, half-joking, that God wasn’t following my life script.  My husband and I were supposed to travel, to live abroad, to do good work.  Dementia changed all those plans.

Spring came, and I got busy. Until the corona virus stopped me, I turned into a frenetic organizer. I channeled the feelings of guilt about my anger into reparation.  I would be the model caregiver.  I packed my husband’s and my schedule with activities.  That’s what he needed, right?  Socialization, exercise, mental stimulation, lots of interaction with the world.

It was exhausting.  For an introvert like me, all that running around was depleting my small reserves.  I needed to recharge with solitude. Yes, I did enjoy the activities, but I lacked an equal amount of time to renew my energies.

Then along came COVID-19.  No more gym visits.  No more adult education classes.  No more clay studio.  No more meals out with friends.  Life. Slowed. Down.

Now I don’t have to feel guilty because there’s nothing to do about the situation.  I wake up early and think of all the delicious choices to make: do I write? work on a video? cut some more quilt pieces?

And my husband?  He seems fairly content to watch the news, read, and do his crossword puzzles.  We meet up for meditation, cooking and eating, and sewing the quilt we’re making together.  And for walks.

Strange fruit in strange times.