Snowmen, Firesides, and Bookmarks — Assisted Living Art

A Snowman picture just seemed appropriate for the first art class in January at my mom’s assisted living facility.  The roads were snow-covered and the trees glistened with ice.  Brrr.  I think we should have had some hot chocolate as well.  As Loraine took her seat, she told me her daughter had taken down most of the pictures in her room last week.  She said, “I asked her, why did you do that?”  Her reply?  “Well, Mom, they are seasonal, I took down the autumn pictures.”   Loraine must have shown some discontent over that because then she smiled and said, “she put them all back up.”   I love that Loraine and her daughter post her artwork on the wall in her room.  And I also like the look of the changing seasons displayed there.  That’s very fun.

 

My mom, Alice and my granddaughter, Aubrey.

My granddaughter, Aubrey, was still on Christmas break during this time so she was able to join us for this class.  What a great helper!  She filled the pint jars up with water and laid out all the paints.  As the residents began to paint, she hovered around me.  “Bre, would you like to paint a snowman too?”  She jumped up and down, clapped her hands, and said,  “yes!”  I feel blessed as I watch my mother and my granddaughter paint together.  Three generations of “wanna be” artists.   Four actually as my mother’s Aunt Ruth was also a painter.  Mom has one of Aunt Ruth’s pictures hanging in her room.

 

This is the class I mentioned in my last post where only 5 residents were able to join us.  As I reported, illness and exhaustion that incurred over the holidays still lingered for many of the residents.  And I’m sad to say, two of the participants won’t be joining us again.  One has been moved permanently to the nursing home wing, and the other passed away in December.  They both came regularly, and I was surprised to hear this news.  These are the first I’ve lost.   And it is indeed very sad.  And humbling somehow.   I will miss them in class.  But I think I’ll track down that “new” nursing home resident and have a chat with her this week.  She may not be able to paint, and she may not even know me — she wasn’t very chatty even in class — but I’m going to find her.  I’m hoping to find just a twinkle of recognition in her eyes.  If not, that’s ok, we’ll still have a nice little visit, and I know, in any case, she’ll brighten my day.

I’ll share a few of their snowman pictures below.  This was just an easy drawing I sketched onto their canvas boards.  I hesitated to present such a simple picture to them, but it worked out well for that first class in January as my “artists” were still a bit spent from their December activities.  They appreciated the simplicity of the little guy, and most were exhausted and ready to be done by the time 2 hours rolled away.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next class, I prepared a fireside picture for them.  There were a few moans as I set the picture in front of them for as simple as the last picture was, this one was a bit more detailed.  “Oh my, I don’t think I can do it.”  This made me smile for I know I can usually count on Phyllis to be initially overwhelmed by the white board  “Oh, Phyllis, sure you can.  You’re just frightened by that blank canvas.  Here, I can help you out.”  And with that, I took a paintbrush and put a few strokes of red onto her fireplace.  “See?  Now, it’s no longer a blank canvas, just finish what I started, and then keep going.”  And she did.  Here is her picture along with her classmates.  Mom said, “This was a fun one to do.

 

 

 

 

And I know this post has gotten long, but if you’ll allow me, I have one more set of pictures to share, and then we’ll wrap up January.  I try to mix it up every few weeks so the residents don’t get bored with painting a canvas.  So this week, I printed bookmarks onto card stock.  After they painted them, I laminated them and cut them into the individual bookmarks.

Before class started, I found a woman I had never seen peddling her wheelchair down the hall.  She had stopped and was “catching her breath” as I came upon her.  “Hi, can I help get somewhere?  Where are you going?”  She sighed and said, “Yes!  I want to go to that art class down there.”  Well how do you like that?  So I pushed her into the room and wheeled her up next to my mom.  Come to find out, this woman has only been a resident for 10 days, however, she and mom knew each other in high school.  Phyllis (yes another sweet Phyllis) had moved out of the area right after high school.  She is now a widow who never had children.  She came back to this area to be with old school friends.  60 years later.  Phyllis shared some of her story with me.  Life is funny.  We do not know the twists and turns our lives will take.  Thankfully, there is always a curtain that veils our tomorrows.  Welcome back, Phyllis, I hope you find joy and happiness here.

And guess who showed up to class?  Yep, Jeannette — the one who has been longing to paint a big picture on a canvas board.   Jeannette has come to three classes, and has not yet painted on a canvas board.  Maybe next time…..   stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sharon does not read, and did not have need of bookmarks. She wanted to keep her picture intake to hang on her wall.

 

Bookmark designs were provided by SandraDigitalDesigns and KLstudio15.  Thank you for making my work easier!

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Assisted Living Artists Accept Whimsical Turkey Challenge

 

There were only a few moans of apprehension when my class of assisted living artists saw my example of a whimsical turkey.  “You want us to paint that”?  But once I set the canvas down in front of them, each person took a large paint brush and began to paint the background.  That’s how I’ve taught them to tackle that “blank canvas” anxiety.  Once the background is painted, it’s easier to paint the details.

 

 

Thirty minutes into class, I had to add one more table to the three already pushed togother — 13 ladies wanted to paint.  That is the biggest class yet, and 2 of my regulars couldn’t even be here.  I am excited to have a full room.  One or two men join us occasionally, but not on a regular basis.  I have some ideas for projects that might be more appealing to them.  We shall see…

 

When I told the ladies I would be gone for two weeks, Phyllis, my dramatic one, said, “Oh no, what are we going to do without you.”   I love that Phyllis didn’t give up after our first class — she is a delight.  And she no longer groans about her picture, but accepts my praise with a simple, “thank you.”  She asks me to sign her name and date the bottom of every picture she finishes.  That sounds like ‘pride in her work’ to me.

 

These women are proud of their pictures, simple as they are.  I have attempted to talk about shading and shadows, but only Roberta feels confident enough to make those additions to the outline.  That’s ok – they are happy with the finished picture and therefore I am too.

 

 

I myself have an 87 year old mother and a 95 year old mother-in-law, and often our conversations get stale as they have nothing new to talk about.  I love that this art work gives these ladies something different to talk about — something new and fresh and exciting.  I’m thinking maybe their family members appreciate the “new talk” as well.

 

 

Daisy walked by our class today, and timidly looked at the table.  She came to the first class, but she didn’t care for the activity.  “I didn’t know this is what was going on.  Someone just said, sit down, so I did.  But I don’t like to paint.”   She never came back.  And often she walks by the room, but never wants to join us.  But today, she lingered just a bit longer.  “Daisy, do you want to paint today?”  “Well, I might try one.”    She painted a turkey, using a large brush and the paint palette.  I tried to offer the watercolor markers or smaller paint brushes, but she was content to just keep adding color with the large brush.  That’s ok.  No rules here.  When I asked Daisy if I could take her picture (I always ask), she declined.  However, she did allow me to capture her artwork.  But she didn’t want to take her turkey back to her room.  “I don’t want that old thing.”  I kept it myself.  I think it’s beautiful.  Just like Daisy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Credit for this gorgeous turkey design goes to Jess Hone.

You can find this picture and other fabulous ones at: Honedoodles.

Elderly Seniors Embrace Art Classes

This is Phyllis. Phyllis has trouble seeing so I have started outlining her pictures in black marker to define the lines. After seeing her lovely picture, the other residents asked me to outline their pictures as well.

“I turned down a birthday party invitation because I didn’t want to miss art class.”  That’s what Phyllis said as she took her seat at the table.  “Oh, Phyllis, I’m sorry you’re missing a party!  I hope it wasn’t a family member.”  “No, just a good friend.”  Oh my….

I am happy that the residents at my mom’s assisted living facility are enjoying this art class, however, I am disappointed that they are canceling other plans; they don’t have enough to fill their time as it is.  But I don’t think everyone changes their schedule for me —  Phyllis might be the exception.  She tells me every week, “I just LOVE to do this.”  And that makes me smile because the first week I came to do this art with the residents, Phyllis was the one who kept saying, “Oh, I just can’t do this.  I just can’t.”  But she can, and she does every single week, and she is always the first one to arrive at the table.  I just love that her.

 

Lorraine, Sharon, and Mary. This pumpkin and sunflower picture was a favorite, and they turned out lovely.

A few weeks ago, Lorraine asked me to come to her room after class.  Beaming, she pointed to the wall, “My daughter hung all my art work.”   She was thrilled that her daughter liked her art, and thought it “wall-worthy.”  My mom tells me (every week) that she knew Lorraine when she was a teenager.  “When I was 14 years-old, she use to walk down the sidewalk with her boyfriend, holding hands.”  I love to get nuggets of information like this.  Memories from the past.  These women weren’t born old.  They were young and in love and had babies and had careers.

 

I try to ask questions, hoping they will reminisce and indulge me with their stories.  As they painted the pie in the autumn centerpiece last week, I asked, “Who loves to bake pies?”  When Halloween was just around the corner, and they were painting pumpkins, I asked, “Did your children dress up and go trick-or-treating?”  Sometimes I get a few answers.  Sometimes I don’t.  That’s okay.  If they are quiet, I tell them a story about me, my children, or my grandchildren.  And more than once my story has helped someone recall their story.  And so it goes.

 

This is Hazel. She was also new to class and LOVED the sun catchers. She came back to paint our fall centerpiece picture. What a sweet sweet lady.

I have prepared 5 pictures for them to paint over the last several weeks.  Two weeks ago, I thought we’d do something different, so I brought sun catchers for them to paint.  I found some nice fall leaf patterns that would look pretty in the windows in their rooms.   One lady was new to class (she had walked by the previous week and noticed the beautiful pumpkin and sunflower picture we were working on.)  When she sat down, I could tell she was a bit disappointed in the sun catchers.  After we had painted for about 15 minutes, the chatter at the table had mixed “reviews” of this more tedious art work.  But most liked the change.  This new artist boldly said, “I think it’s boring.”  That made me laugh out loud.  You know, when you get to be 90 years-old, there is no need to pretend or beat around the bush.  And that’s okay.  She didn’t come back last week.  But I’m going to seek her out on Friday because we’re painting an awesome turkey for Thanksgiving.  I think she just might like it.

Sneak preview of our Thanksgiving turkey picture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are a few pictures of our fall paintings.  I am so thankful I can be a part of this.  The residents are very proud of their pictures.  I am too.

But more beautiful than the art work are the artists.

 

I think Roberta has some past experience in art. She missed a few weeks so she opted to paint two pictures last week. She wears this hat every day because the fluorescent lights hurt her eyes.

 

This is sweet Mary. She is pretty quiet, but she giggles at my jokes. She has just finished her picture and is enjoying a cookie before she goes back to her room.

 

This is Sherry, but many CNAs still call her Mrs. Davis. She earned their respect many years ago… Sherry was disappointed last week because she feel asleep after lunch, and no one woke her up for art class. I wont let that happen again.

 

 

This is Oran. He is very quiet. But he paints whatever I set in front of him. He eats my cookies and stays in class until everyone is done with their picture. There was a time when someone like Oran intimidated me. But not anymore. I really really like this guy.

 

This is Alice — my mom. I started these classes for her. But I know now, God intended them for me. Mom has her own art supplies in her room and paints two or three additional pictures between classes.

 

This is Sharon. Sharon comes every week. She always has this beautiful smile on her face.

 

This is Thelma. She has been to every single class. Often during class, she sets her paint brush down and just rests for 10 minutes. Then she picks up her brush and begins again. And even though it may be 80 degrees in our room, she will always wear a sweater.

 

This is Irene. She is relatively new to class — I think she has been to the last three. I walked her back to her room when we did the sun catchers. She pointed to her picture on the window sill, and told me how proud her children were of her painting. I love that.

 

 

This is Lorraine. She is sharp and witty and very fun. When I grow up, I want to dress like Lorraine — always beautiful inside and out.

 

Just a silly painted pumpkin, but look at Mary’s face. I am so blessed when I look at this picture.

 

Their hands. No words needed….

Adjusting to Assisted Living

I spent the day with my mom on Friday.  As I had planned the visit a few days in advance, my sister (the one who lives by Mom’s assisted living facility) called and asked if I would take her to a doctor appointment.  Mom had complained about being uncomfortable the last few days, and with her continuous weight gain, my sister felt the doctor should be consulted.doctor-clip-art-4

I don’t even know how to explain the appointment.  It was almost like a comedy routine between the doctor and my mom.   This doctor is probably 70 years old himself, and  has only seen mother one time.  He was kind of lost as her medical history over the last year is very complicated.   I tried to fill in the blanks and walk him through it, but well, it’s just complicated.   All I’ll say is at the beginning of the appointment, he said, ‘your thyroid is doing great; those numbers are good’.  And at the end of the appointment he said, ‘your thyroid is dead’.  Ok then.

But by the time we were walking out of the office, a CAT scan was scheduled for next week.  Good enough.  That’s all I wanted out of the appointment anyway.  Mission accomplished.

In the parking lot, Mom says’, ‘do I stop taking my water pills?’   ‘No, everything stays the same until we get the results from the CAT scan’.  We head for a restaurant to eat a late lunch, and Mom says, ‘he didn’t take any of this water off my tummy.’  ‘No, Mom, they aren’t going to do anything until after the scan’.

Mom and I make small talk at lunch, and once again she laments about not being in ‘her own apartment’.   Then she proceeds to tell me about her play money she won at Bingo.  She uses this cash to buy toiletries in the facility store.   She has recently changed dining tables for meals, and she tells me about her new friends at that table.  She talks about her watercolor class and her euchre game.  She tells me how much sewing she has been doing.   Oookkay…..

Last summer I read many books and articles about dementia.  One report said that loved ones will always want to go home.  No matter how content they are in their new surroundings.  No matter how long it has been since they were home, they will always want to go back.   They will continue to ask about going home.    The article suggests that saying things like, ‘well, that isn’t an option anymore’, or ‘this is your home now’ only causes frustration and anger for your loved one.  It is better to say things like, ‘I know you miss your home.  Some day, we can talk more about that’.  Then steer the conversation to different topic.   I have tried to implement that advice, and it really seems to work.  So when Mom talks about home, I listen and sympathize; I don’t get upset or try to talk her out of that desire.  I just move away from the subject, and we talk about other things.

When we are about done with lunch Mom asks again about her water pills.   ‘Yes, Mom, continue to take them’.

We go for some blood work and then head back to her apartment.  Walking into the facility, Mom says, ‘he didn’t take any of this water off my tummy’.   ‘No, Mom…’

After spending a few minutes looking at her watercolors in the art room, someone mentions the Good Friday service is about to begin.  Mom quickly walks me downstairs and says her good-byes.  I am not offended that she rushes me off.  I love that she wants to go to the service and be with her new friends.

As I take my leave, she asks for the third time about her water pills.

home-sweet-homeOn my way home, I do NOT cry — this is a first.    In the past, I have cried because my mother’s world had shrunk so small.  I grieved for her and the life she knew and missed.  But today, not only did I see confirmed that her short term memory loss is certainly still an issue, I saw her world enlarging again.  As Mom has settled into her new life, her heart has softened, and she is opening up to friendships and activities.  She is finding her place once again.

She may grumble.  She may always ask to go home.  But I’m not worried about her anymore.

She is content.  She may even be happy.

This IS becoming home.

 

 

Fading Green Envy

I received an email from my oldest sister last week, updating me on Mom’s recent doctor appointments.  She reported that Mom is doing well, yet the doctor did increase her thyroid medication again as her weight gain and blood work are still a concern.

My sister wrote that Mom also had a new sewing project (Mom didn’t mention that when we talked on the phone).  She made about 40 pillows for the Assisted Living Christmas Bazaar.  Sold every one of them.  Way to go, Mom!

My sister’s email says, ‘Mom and I went for pedicures on Tuesday…’  Hmm… I couldn’t convince Mom to go for a pedicure a few weeks ago when I visited her.

I feel that little green monster creeping out — I’m jealous.green-monster-mara-morea

When I look back at my very first post in this blog, I wrote about wanting a new, deeper relationship with my Mom.  Even though the circumstances were terrible due to my mom’s illness, I still had the desire of my mom and me connecting in a new way.  But when Mom was with me, she was really, really sick.  I don’t think she even remembers much about being here.  She told someone she lived with me for 3 weeks.  It was slightly over 4 months!   Now, she is doing better, and my oldest sister and my mom are bonding.

Ha!  My sister gets a healthier Mom; a Mom who lives a block away in a beautiful assisted living facility (not with her).  She can pop in for coffee anytime and pop back out into her own life.

Yep, I said the monster was green, the color of envy.

I talk with Mom every few days on the phone, but to be honest, the visits to her new city have been less frequent this past month.   I could be more involved in her life, but the 3 hours on the road to and from her apartment have been a deterrent lately.  I just wasn’t prepared for the holiday season, and I have played “catch up” for most of December.  Sigh.  Children, Grandchildren, Mothers, Nieces….  there just isn’t enough of me to do all that I would like to do; be all that I would like to be.   I’m sure I’m not alone with those feelings.   I want more time…. more days…. more me.

I just got off the phone with Mom.  She sounds good.  She sounds like Mom.  I could just sit here and cry over the miracle of that.  She is thriving and content.  My green hue is fading a bit.  I refuse to spoil any of this time with jealousy.   I still have my Mom.   I will treasure whatever relationship  I have with her.  Life is short and we only get to do this once — this Mother-Daughter relationship — I want to do it right.

There are many answered prayers and blessings this Christmas season…

My Mom is still with us.

She is thriving.

She is perhaps even becoming happy with her new life.

She is reading, sewing, playing Bingo, and making new friends.

And she is no longer angry with her 4 children for moving her into an Assisted Living Facility!

As I think about all the good and positive, there is no room in my heart for ugly green monsters…

and all the envy fades away.

Thank you, Lord.

Merry Christmas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibs for Everyone

Mom is sewing up a storm.  Every other day, the Activities Director knocks on Mom’s door and has some mending for her to do.   When Mom tells me this, she pretends it’s a bit presumptuous of her, but I think she is loving the attention.  Mom has always had a love/hate relationship with sewing.  On the one hand, she loves the challenge and creativity involved.  But on the other hand, she hates the drudgery of alterations and mending.  I know the Director is probably searching out sewing jobs for Mom to keep her engaged and busy.

When I called her a few days ago, Mom said, ‘I made myself an apron from some material your sister dropped off’.   ‘An apron?  Why do you need an apron’?  Mom replies, ‘well, it’s a bib, really.  I made one for myself and everyone at my table’.   I can’t believe my mother is willing to wear a bib — even the instigator of wearing a bib at mealtime.

Wow.  I don’t even know what to say about that.

Yesterday I joined Mom for an early Thanksgiving meal prepared by her facility.  When we arrived downstairs, she haimagesnded out a few more bibs to appreciative fellow residents.   It got a little comical as Mom couldn’t remember which women had asked for bibs.  One woman got one and didn’t know why.  Another resident wanted to know why she didn’t get one.  It was kind of funny, and I think Mom will be making a few more this week; maybe everyone will be wearing a bib the next time I join her for lunch.  The dining room was overflowing into the hallway as  family members and guests gathered for this lovely dinner.   I did notice that Mom did NOT wear her “apron” for this meal.  The bibs evidently are saved for regular, no-guests-present, kind of meals.  Good for you, Mom.   You had me worried there for a minute.

Health wise Mom is doing very well.  After some routine blood work, the doctor put her back on thyroid medicine (her weight gain was also evident that something wasn’t quite right).   She has made great progress over the last 3 months, and we are happy about her renewed strength.

Her memory is still playing tricks on her.  The sequence of events and remembering recent happenings are still her biggest struggle.  She is guarded when questioned because she has caught on that those are her weaknesses.  Visits with her are taxing because she has become quiet.  Quiet is not an adjective that would ever have described my mother in the past.  She answers questions when personally addressed, but she does not initiate most conversations.

I think we were prepared for the memory lapses as we thought that was the definition of dementia, but this whole new personality change has us all a bit perplexed.  It’s like getting to know someone new.  And that’s okay.  Three months ago, we didn’t think Mom was going to live.

I have much to be thankful for this year.  So many blessings.  And the biggest and best is my mother will be sitting at our Thanksgiving Dinner table.

I wonder if she’ll bring her apron?

No Pedicures For Us Today

I went to see Mom yesterday.  I intended for us to go for pedicures.   My sister had mentioned a couple of times that Mom’s piggies could use some attention.  Sounded good to me… who doesn’t love a pedicure?  Well, Mom, evidently.   There was no persuading her otherwise.  I tried.  I really really tried.  I texted my sister, ‘unless I tie her up and drag her to the car, there will be no pedicures today’.   Ok then.

Mom has gained almost 30 pounds in the 8 weeks she has been at the assisted living facility.  My sisters think she is feeling better and eating too well.  (I could write a whole blog about my skinny sisters, food struggles, and my weight, however, my anxiety level is high enough today)  ‘They give her dessert at every meal”.  Well, yes, but 30 pounds?!  She isn’t chowing down and bingeing on bowls of ice cream every night.  Of course, there will be some weight gain as she was down to 110 pounds, but this much, this fast, isn’t a normal, healthy weight gain.  No, I think maybe the recent downward swing of that thyroid is still playing havoc with Mom’s body.  Doctors have adjusted her meds again.    Recent doctor’s appointments have yielded praise of Mom’s rebounding health, and frankly, no doctor is concerned about her weight.  Seriously?  I’m kinda concerned… and I don’t think its the Moose Tracks.

She called me on Monday because she was frustrated with a sewing machine someone gave her.  The bobbin thread was in a tizzy.   Anyone who sews knows that messed up bobbin thread can make you crazy.  I told her I would bring my extra machine.  “I’m not using it.  I can help set it up.  I’m coming tomorrow so I’ll put it in the car right now”.  She called me again on Tuesday morning before I left.  …the bobbin thread on that machine was in a tizzy.  Anyone who sews knows…    bobbinYep,  a repeat of the conversation from the day before.  Oh, Mom.    She called me twice more as I was driving, remembering things she needed me to pick up for her sewing tasks.  Setting up the machine and filling extra bobbins of various colors was a fun, normal thing to do.  It was so good to see Mom in this setting.   It would have been “just like old times” if it wasn’t for the repetition.  I think three times, she said, ‘I wanted you to pick something up.  What was it?’  “Pins, Mom, you asked me to pick up straight pins.  See, here they are.”

I am still a little shocked at the repeat questions.  It may be something I never get use to.  How does the brain work?  Why do those recent words not stick?  I want to take her face in my hands and say, listen Mom, listen to what I say.  As if only listening were the answer.  Remember.  Please, remember, Mom.

She hears the repetition in her fellow residents…  she says things like, “they are like my Mom was…”   I just nod, and my heart is sad.  Very very sad.  Dementia is a cruel disease.  It is stealing my mother.

She doesn’t even know she’s leaving.

I hate dementia.

I fear dementia.