Fall is Time for Mums

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Fall is in the air and anyone who is anybody is planting mums. The chrysanthemum, or in this case the hardy garden mum brings a quick splash of color to our gardens when all the other flowers in our gardens are waning. At a time when your roses are getting ready for a long winter’s nap the garden mum is ready to brighten your garden and lift your spirits. The hardy garden mum comes in a multitude of colors that can literally bring the rainbow into your flower beds.

When I worked at a couple of the local garden centers where I was employed as a nursery technician I was amazed by the number of customers who would come in and say that they wanted to get their yearly mums for their gardens. Invariably most customers would say that their mums didn’t make it through the winter and they wanted new ones to bring color and cheer to their gardens. This doesn’t have to be the case: with minimal care you can keep those beautiful mums coming back for many years to come. And I do mean minimal care. Even if you don’t have a green thumb if you follow a few simple steps you will amaze your friends and neighbors with the bounty of beautiful mums that keep coming back year after year.

The first step is to purchase healthy plants from your local garden center. At this time of the year mums are for sale everywhere. The local drug store, the grocery store, roadside produce stands and flea markets to name a few. The problem is, the mums you see at places such as the drug store receive minimal care by store employees who know absolutely nothing about the proper care of bedding plants. Just yesterday I stopped at a local drug store which I shall not name and by the entrance they had a large display of six inch pots of mums that looked like they were on their last legs. Had these mums been in my care while I worked at the garden centers I would most likely have been sent packing. Those mums were so pitiful that they should have been put into the dumpster. The price on these sad sacks was 2 for $9.00. Unfortunately most people think that flowers at a local garden center are going to be much more expensive, but that is not the case. Compare the beautiful, extremely large plants in eight inch pots in the above picture. Those beauties were 4 for $18.00 at my local garden center. During my storied past I have been an Ohio Certified Nursery Technician and a dedicated amateur botanist and I can tell you that buying healthy and beautiful plants at your local garden center not only pays dividends in the long run but most of the time is no more expensive than the big box stores that try to flim-flam into thinking they have educated, dedicated personnel who’s only purpose in life is to sell you the best plants available. That just isn’t the case!

The next step in caring for your mums is the easiest  – just plant them and enjoy. The only tip I might give you for planting is to examine the roots. Quite often the roots on those massive plants such as the ones I purchased can be crowded in the pot. Just take a knife or your pruning shears and nick the roots a little. This will help promote the growth of feeder roots which will help the plants get established before winter rears its ugly head. Do not give the plants any fertilizer at all. This will only promote weak growth at a time when the plants will not be able to sustain that growth. A little bone meal in the bottom of the planting hole is the only thing you should give the plants other than a healthy drink of water when planting.

After planting sit back and enjoy your mums until winter comes. Once the first frosts bring an unwanted end to the colorful flowers on your plants comes the next step in insuring that you have mums from your own garden next year. That step is, don’t instinctively cut down your mums. Using my technique of keeping your mums from year to year is to leave the stems on the plants. What you need to do is wait for a period where you get two or three days when the temperatures stay below freezing constantly. Then you can cut off the flower heads leaving the now brown stems. The next step is to mulch the plants with six to eight inches of mulch or dead leaves that you have raked up from your yard; you can even mound dirt on top of the plants if you want. The idea here is to let the root balls of the plants freeze and then mulch them in order to keep the roots cold all winter. The main reason mums and certain other plants have difficulty making it through the winter is that the vagaries of winters in our area don’t keep some plants constantly in dormancy throughout the winter. Mums are especially prone to wanting to start to grow when we have periods of warm weather in the middle of winter. Once we have a few days of warm weather mums will want to start growing again and if any amount of new growth takes place it will be quickly killed off when the freeze comes back. If you mulch your mums correctly the roots will be kept cold during that January thaw and stay asleep as they should.

When warm weather does come along in the spring you can remove the mulch once the ground has warmed and you see signs of new growth at the base of the mum plants. Now that spring is here and new growth on your mums is quite evident it is time to cut off the old growth. Cut the brown stems down to a nubbin and let the plants develop an inch or two of new growth. Next we are going to use the division technique I wrote about in my last blog about dividing irises and daylilies. I like to lift the entire root ball, shake off the dirt and then divide the plant. Mums spread by sending out stolen and you can actually see what can be new viable mum plants by looking closely at the roots. After dividing the plants place your new plants 24 inches apart because what I am going to have you do next is the same practice that is used in your local garden center. The way they get those huge, beautiful, round mum plants is by pinching the plant stems at regular intervals. The method I use is to pinch the stems after every second leaf of new growth. I usually do this until somewhere around August 7-14. This may be a little late to make the last pinch of your mums. Most commercial growers make the last pinch of their mum plants on August 1st. This insures showy blooms during fall’s peak color time. I like to do it a little later because I like to try and keep blooms on my mums until Halloween. I know it is a little risky because we quite often get a killing frost before Halloween. But, I stay prepared with plenty of newspapers to cover my mums to protect them. Otherwise give your mums a little fertilizer on the first of every month until July 1st. As I said before any fertilizer at a late date just promotes weak growth that most likely can’t be sustained.

If you follow these few simple steps you can have beautiful mums that keep coming back year after year. Who knows you may even wind up with enough to set up your own roadside stand next fall.

Eating My Mistakes

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The following post was first posted by me at www.northcantonpatch.com .

 

A few years ago my wife had some serious health problems and I took over the household duties, which included doing the cooking. Other than desecrating a hamburger once in awhile I pretty much let my wife handle the cooking for the previous forty years of our married life. Learning to cook has been one of my life’s most daunting learning experiences.

The first thing I learned about cooking is that you are pretty much committed to eating your mistakes. This means munching on burned meat, mushy overcooked veggies, and the remnants of that omelet that you tried to flip like the chef on television. And therein is one of the main problems of learning how to cook. Those know-it-all chef’s on television don’t live in the real word. Alton Brown has no idea what it is to try to cook on a limited budget funded by a small retirement income. Rachel Ray would quickly loose her plasticized smile trying to cook on a thirty year old Kenmore range that has the temperamental controls of a woman in the middle of menopause. The only “Bams” Emeril would hear are me slamming a pan into the kitchen sink when I forgot a main ingredient in a recipe and the result was chicken cacciatore that tasted like the chicken got run over by a semi as it crossed the road.

This Sunday’s dinner is what started this discourse. I made pan-seared sirloin steaks, duchess potatoes, and curried peas. The steaks and the store bought rolls were the only edible items of the dinner. The duchess potatoes were the result of watching a cooking show during the afternoon on PBS. Another of my learning experiences has been to take all these TV cooks’ advice with a grain of – nay a hearty pinch of salt. The nice lady with the perpetual smile told me that my russet potatoes would be cooked to a delicately tender state after simmering for only twenty minutes. It took my Sear’s range a full thirty minutes just to bring the water to a simmer. Forty-five minutes later the potatoes were finally tender enough to be put through their paces in my potato ricer. Trying to work quickly and not get scalded too badly by the hot potatoes I managed to pipe them onto a cooking sheet and into the oven at somewhere near 400 degrees. I put the steaks into a hot skillet and went to work on the curried peas. Following the recipe I dutifully made a roux that resembled something a diarrheic dog might leave on my sidewalk. Adding peas, beef broth, and powdered curry let me believe I was on my way to a meal worth bragging about. I later learned a good deal about curry powder and that is; a little curry powder goes a long, long way.

Finally, almost three hours after starting the meal was ready and I called my wife to the table. If the state department ever needs a skilled diplomat I want to recommend my wife. She sweetly said that the meal was very good as she crunched tough overcooked duchess potatoes; a result of being extruded too thinly through a pastry pipe. She even had a second helping of the eye-watering curried peas.

In return I did the dishes. That brings me to today’s final learning experience about cooking. Cooking for two is difficult enough with the normal problems of shopping for two. But it is exacerbated by the mess you make. Cooking for two still makes a mountain of dishes to wash and that can be a disheartening experience after a dinner gone wrong.

Next Sunday – Pizza!

It’s Dividing Time Again, Iris’s Gonna Leaf Me

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The fourteenth day of September is an important day for me or should I say it is an important day for my garden. September fourteenth is the day that I start to divide my irises. The iris is my favorite flower (see my photo blog Spectacular Irises ). Irises are beautiful flowers that will provide years of spectacular blooms but they do require a little care. With the proper care prized heirloom irises can be passed down from generation to generation. Besides proper planting the most important thing in order to have healthy and long lived irises is that they should be divided every two or three years. If they are not divided they may seem to be healthy for a number of years but eventually they become overgrown, susceptible to disease, and rotting. Left to their own devices the clump of irises that you love so may simply die out from neglect.

To divide irises first take the entire clump out of the ground using a large shovel or pitchfork. Place the clump on the ground and knock off as much dirt as possible. Once all the dirt is off inspect the plant for damage. If irises are left in the ground for more than a couple of years they will grow outward from old growth usually leaving an unproductive and possibly diseased or rotting center. Once you have identified the center of the clump break off or pull apart the individual rhizomes. A rhizome is difficult to describe but easily identifiable. It looks somewhat like a cross between a root, and a tuber. It has roots growing off of it and has a gnarly appearance. One of the main reasons for waiting until September fourteenth to divide my irises is that the eyes which will provide new flowers now begin to appear on the base of the rhizomes. The iris eyes look like small onion sets and may be a half inch in diameter down to a mere nubbin, just a tiny bump on the rhizome. If you have trouble identifying the eyes at least make sure you get a healthy looking rhizome with a full fan of leaves on it. Chances are it will have at least a developing eye on it even if you can’t readily see it. Once you have separated the rhizomes discard the unproductive center. Examine the separated rhizomes carefully for insect holes, rotted centers, and any other signs of disease and discard any that are doubtful. Once you have done this give the roots and leaves a haircut. The reason for trimming the leaves is to lessen the demands on the roots after the dividing process. Intuitively one would think that all the roots should be kept intact but giving them a quick trimming helps to promote the growth of the fine feeder roots during the fall and gives the plant a chance to establish a sturdy foundation before winter arrives. If you have any rooting powder or solution it helps to treat the roots to stimulate new growth. The last thing I do is to dust the wounds where I broke the rhizomes off with sulfur dust. This helps to prevent disease and infections of the wounded plant.

Next comes planting your new iris plants. This is probably the most important step in the cultivation of irises. Irises must be planted with the top half of the rhizome out of the ground and exposed to the air and sun. If irises are planted completely underground they will quickly rot and soon die. Like all plants irises need moisture to grow; but they need well drained and dry soil conditions, otherwise they will struggle to survive. If you have ever been working in your garden around irises and smelled a powerful stench that smells something between rotting flesh and rotting garbage you probably have encountered an iris that was planted completely underground in wet conditions. If you look closely you will most likely see that the center of the clump is rotting and if left unattended the entire clump will eventually die out. When planting iris rhizomes dig a hole large enough in diameter to accommodate the rhizome and deep enough that the roots have plenty of room. Once you have the hole dug, take some of the excavated dirt and form a firm mound of dirt as high as the level of the surrounding ground. Place the rhizome on top of the dirt mound and spread the roots out around it. Then backfill the hole around the roots making sure that the top of the rhizome is exposed. Pat the dirt firmly in place and water liberally. Do Not ! I repeat – Do Not fertilize the newly planted iris. The last thing you want to do with any perennial flower is to promote new leaf and stem growth going into winter. The new growth will not be strong enough to survive the winter and it decreases the chances of the new plant surviving into spring. If you just can’t resist doing something to help the plant grow you can sprinkle a little bone meal on the bottom of the hole before planting.

Dividing my irises can sometimes take a couple of weeks, After I am done with the irises I turn my attention to my daylilies. I divide my daylilies not for the health of the plant but for propagation reasons. While daylilies can be divided in the spring I have found that I get the best results dividing my daylilies in late September. There are two ways to divide daylilies. One way is to simply chomp down trough the plant with a shovel, or in the case of some of the larger daylilies use an axe or even a saw to cut apart the larger clumps. I prefer to dig the entire plant out of the ground and then looking for the natural forming smaller clumps within the larger plant. On smaller daylilies such as the Stella D’Oro you can identify and pull apart the divisions with great success. I have taken 5 or so Stella D’Oro daylilies and multiplied them into dozens of plants.

I have one last dividing tip for those of you who might have read my spring blog Butterfly Gardening. If you would like to have more butterfly bushes in your garden try the following method of propagation. Snip seven or eight pencil thick cuttings about six inches long from your butterfly bush. Be sure to make the bottom cut just below a leaf node on a forty-five degree diagonal. Make the top cut just above a leaf node, again on a forty-five degree diagonal. Tie the cuttings together with string and bury the cuttings about five or six inches deep in your garden. Mark the location of your cuttings in some way that will last through the winter so that you can find them in the spring. Resist the temptation to check on their progress during the early spring: leave them in the ground until late May when temperatures have risen and the ground has warmed. If you are lucky you may be rewarded with one or two new butterfly bushes.

Flower gardening doesn’t have to be and expensive affair. Using the division technique of propagating plants can not only save a lot money, it also provides a great deal of satisfaction.

Late September and early October is also the time to plant spring flowering bulbs, such as tulips, hyacinths, and daffodils. Plant the bulbs three to four times the height of the bulb. Adding a little bone meal to the bottom of the planting hole will help root growth and give the bulbs a head start heading into winter.

With a little work and some planning, you will be well rewarded for your efforts with a bevy of beautiful blooms next spring.

Take This Medicine Only On The Advice of Your Attorney

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While watching television with my wife one evening a commercial came on for an antidepressant drug. After a short explanation of the drug’s benefits for someone already taking an antidepressant  the commercial started to warn of possible side effects from the drug. As I watched, the narrator stated the possible side effects of the drug which included an increased risk of death, cancer and all sorts of problems, none of them good. I turned to my wife and said, “why on earth would anyone take that drug.” I remember thinking that if one wasn’t depressed before taking the drug they certainly might be after hearing of all the side effects.

Just in case anyone thinks I might be exaggerating I taped the commercial and meticulously copied the drug’s warning. I won’t name the drug for fear of  discouraging anyone who might be taking the drug from taking their prescription. I also don’t want to name the drug for fear of a lawsuit from the drug manufacturer. More about lawsuits later.

What follows is the commercial’s side effects warning, word for word:

“Call your doctor if you have unusual changes in mood, behavior, or thoughts of suicide. Antidepressants can increase these in children, teens, and young adults. Elderly dementia patients taking  have an in******** **creased risk of death. Call your doctor if you have fever, stiff muscles and confusion as these may be signs of a life threatening reaction; or if you have uncontrollable muscle movement as these could become permanent. High blood sugar has been reported with ******** ** and medicines like it and in extreme cases can lead to coma and death. Your doctor should check for cataracts. Other risks include decreases in white blood cells which can be fatal. Seizure, increased cholesterol, weight gain, dizziness on standing, drowsiness, impaired judgment and trouble swallowing. Use caution when driving or operating machinery.”

Wow! Thoughts of suicide, increased risk of death, coma and death, a fatal decrease in white blood cells. Talk about depressing. If you weren’t suffering from depression before you certainly would be after reading about all the side effects. The commercial never really weighed the benefits of taking the drug against the possible risks and if I were a person for whom this drug was prescribed I would think twice before taking it. I am pretty sure the list of side effects was written by an attorney in an effort to prevent lawsuits should anyone develop severe side effects from taking the drug.

It may sound like I am being flippant about this but the effort by drug companies to list all possible side effects no matter how minute the risk in an effort to avoid getting sued has the negative effect of discouraging people from taking medicines that doctors prescribe. For example my mother when diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia refused to take a drug that the oncologist prescribed for her (see my blog WATCHING MOMMA DIE ) that might have extended her life because one of the side effects listed on the fact sheet was an increased risk of heart attack and she was afraid that she would die from a heart attack. It didn’t matter that the oncologist thought the drug held the best hope of extending her life for her. I myself have been reluctant to take certain drugs because of the possible side effects.

So what is one to do? The first thing is to discuss any prescription written for you with your doctor. Ask what the doctor knows about possible side effects, the degree of risk, and how the drug’s benefits outweigh the possible side effects. When you take the prescription to be filled take the time and effort to talk to the pharmacist about possible side effects and any possible interactions with any other drugs you are taking. I know that most pharmacies have computers that are supposed to look for interactions with other medicines you are taking but the reality is most pharmacists and their clerks don’t pay enough attention to any flags that the computer might send up. Don’t hesitate to ask to talk to the pharmacist filling the prescription. Never forget you are the customer and have a right to get the information you need. This also applies to prescriptions that are issued in hospitals. Don’t take it for granted that the hospital checks for interactions. When my mother was in the hospital during her illness I questioned a drug that was prescribed for her and after double checking with the pharmacist they found a conflict with another of her medicines and changed it. When getting a prescription from a commercial pharmacy be sure to read the fact sheet that comes with every prescription.

Most of all if you have any concerns at all discuss them with your doctor. It is your body and you are the final authority as to what goes in it.

Grandpa Daycare

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Today as my grandson stepped on the bus which would take him to all day kindergarten a journey that lasted a little more than seven years ended for me;  and a long journey of discovery began for him. His older sister had started the same journey two years ago. The beginnings of their journeys marked the end of the most rewarding journey of my life.

Almost eight years ago my wife and I received news that my daughter was pregnant and would be having a baby girl in March of 2004. My wife and I were ecstatic and eagerly looked forward to the arrival of our granddaughter. At that time my son-in-law was a teacher and my daughter had a good job as a product manager for a local manufacturing company. Considering the high cost of providing for children they both wanted to keep working and they began looking for daycare facilities for the new baby. A few months before the birth of my granddaughter they had pretty much made up their minds to place the baby in daycare at a center located in a church on the other side of the city. I am sure that it was a good daycare center and it was run by a friend of my daughter whom she trusted. But it got me to thinking. The center was a good 20-30 minute drive across town. The firm where my daughter worked was located 45 minutes away from the center and this meant that the baby would have to be taken from her crib at maybe 6:00 AM; driven clear to the other side of town where she would spend the day with strangers. This played on my mind for some time and I couldn‘t stop thinking that their must be a better option for my soon to be granddaughter. At that time I was working at a part-time job that only supplied me with a minimal income and certainly no sense of accomplishing anything of import. With those things in mind I decided to offer to provide daycare for the new baby. That way my granddaughter would be able to sleep in, in the comfort of her own crib and wake up to the smiling face of someone who loved her. The way I saw it, it was a no-brainer.

My offer was accepted and my duties started about two months after my granddaughter was born. Things went pretty much as I expected. My days were filled with bottles, dirty diapers and watching Brainy Baby and Little Einsteins video tapes. It wasn’t hard work. I enjoyed it immensely and I even had time for a nap between diaper changes and scheduled feedings. I thought this is going to be a snap; a few years of fun and games with a beautiful little girl and then I could go back to being semi-retired. But – surprise, surprise: sixteen and one-half months later my daughter gave birth to a bouncing, and I do mean bouncing baby boy. That is when I gained a greater respect for all mothers who raise more than one child on their own. Taking care of one little child is a joy – taking care of two, especially two who are close in age is work. Having two kids who both need their diapers changed, want fed at the same time and work together to entertain you with stereophonic fits can drive a grandpa to drink. But, at the same time it was double the fun. Taking them both to story time at the library or to the park was time well spent. Days flew by singing the ABC’s, scribbling with crayons, and reading books to them were moments that will remain with me forever.

Many people have asked me if I got paid for the years I took care of the kids. I did, but not in the monetary sense and the paydays were frequent and very welcome. Some paydays were small such as joyful giggles from the kids while playing This Little Piggy; some paydays were large which included bonuses of hugs and kisses. While I didn’t get paid in dollars I can guarantee that Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and Donald Trump combined have never had paydays greater than mine. Such as the one a few months ago when my grandson and I were watching the Disney channel: he was watching his favorite show, Phineas and Ferb when he turned to me and said matter-of-factly “grandpa, I love you” then turned back to his show just as though it was the most common place and natural of events. I got paid that day and it was a paycheck that I would not trade for any amount of money. Moments such as that are the moments that make life worth living. It reminded me of my biggest payday ever when a little three year old girl squeezed my neck so hard that I actually couldn’t breathe and said “Daddy I love you.” Eat your heart out Bill Gates.

Caring for my grandchildren the past seven years has been a great learning experience. I have learned a lot about children and a lot about myself. As I watched the children grow I could sense growth in myself. As I filled the needs of two infants I also filled needs of my own. As I was faced with the demands of toddlers in their “terrible twos” I found myself more giving. I learned things that I had forgotten as I tried to teach such simple things as counting and the ABC’s to the kids. Most of all I reconnected with the child in myself and I think that has made all the difference. Most people look at me with the kids and see a foolish old man acting childish. But inside I know that it is those who would call me foolish that are missing out. The joy and wonder that is inherent with being a little child is lost all too soon; especially in today’s result oriented society where children are faced with more and more challenges to excel.

I learned a lot of other things watching the kids for the past seven years. I learned the names of all four Wiggles. I learned that Pete on Mickey’s Clubhouse is really a cat. I also learned that Barney was actually a lot of fun to watch. I learned the third position in ballet even though doing it would send me to the chiropractor. I got reconnected with the library which had nurtured me as a little boy in a one room library in northeast Canton. I also learned several skills. I learned how to make balloon animals to entertain the kids. One of the highlights of my stint of providing daycare was making balloon animals for the 245 kindergarteners of the Plain Local Kindergarten Center. I also learned to do origami; a somewhat impractical skill. Just what do you do with one thousand peace cranes?

Watching the kids for seven years has also kept me in shape. If you want real exercise try pushing a double stroller up a hill with two feuding siblings inside while towing a dog on a leash. Both kids have been dancing in the Plain Local Schools Saturday Enrichment program since they were two and I do my best to dance with them every chance I get thereby getting my aerobic exercise. My cholesterol went down for the first 4-5 years I was watching the kids as a result of having a bowl of Cheerios for breakfast with the kids and sharing my cereal milk with them.

All in all the last seven years have been a blur and have gone by way too fast. But as with all living things, the river of life keeps flowing steadily. It flows relentlessly to the same destination for all living things;  human and animal, old and young. Its waters show no preference for the passengers it carries along. Eventually all will arrive at the same ocean of eternity. At 67 I can hear the waters cascading into the never ending confluence where the raging waters meet the peaceful ocean of eternity. Sometimes in the evening as I sit pondering my mortality I can feel the mist of the river’s waters as it rushes to my final destination. For some, our trips on the river of life are long: some are short. Some find their journey a pleasant and enjoyable trip while others are buffeted about relentlessly by raging rapids going over rocky shoals. My trip down the river has been mixed. Sometimes I was battered by the relentless waters, not able to steer any sort of course on my own. But once in awhile such as in the past seven years the journey has been languid, peaceful and filled with much joy. As my grandchildren go forward with their journeys upon the river I hope that their trips will be long, filled with joy and self-fulfillment. My physical presence won’t be with them for all of their trip but they can rest assured that grandpa will be with them. I am a part of them. Wherever they go; I will go. Bon voyage kids, grandpa loves you.

The Bridal Party Wore Flip-Flops

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Growing up during the fifties and early sixties I was present at the dawning of a new dress code in America. Prior to the all out assault on America’s dress code by the hippie culture of the sixties, people were expected to wear clothes appropriate for the occasion. Men and women wore suits and dresses to church, funerals and weddings. Most white collar work places, were just that, they required a white dress shirt and tie. School children were required to be clean and neat; slacks and a shirt for the boys, skirt and blouse for the girls and hair for all was to be clean and combed in a suitable style. All that is a thing of the past and I have pretty much adjusted to today‘s trend toward casual dress. Pretty much but not completely. I still wear a coat and tie to a job interview, a practice that at times can be awkward and disconcerting. For instance I had an interview with a local grocery chain a few years ago. Not wanting to overdress I decided to wear a sport coat and tie instead of my best suit. When I arrived for the interview I was ushered into an office where a young lady introduced herself as the director of human resources for the company. I was quickly taken aback by her appearance. She was wearing jeans and a shirt that looked like they had been ironed with a warm rock. Her hair was a mess and worst of all she was wearing flip-flops. I HATE FLIP-FLOPS! As soon as I saw the appearance of this sorry excuse for a director of human resources I knew I didn’t stand a chance of even being hired for the exalted position of cart boy.

Now I fully realize that business casual is the new dress-up attire. And I must admit that the dress code of the fifties could be a bit stifling . For instance showing up for the first day of high school in jeans, sneakers and t-shirt with a pack of Lucky Strikes rolled up in my sleeve earned me a trip to detention. Four years later during my senior year that attire with the exception of the Lucky Strikes was accepted attire. But no one – absolutely no one would be caught out in public wearing flip-flops. The only place flip-flops were acceptable was in the shower after gym or football practice. To put it bluntly flip-flops are really shower shoes; cheap, inexpensive and ugly! The hippie culture of the sixties exposed the youth of America to these scions of slovenly dress and they have slowly come to be accepted attire for all occasions, and I do mean all occasions. I recently attended a wedding where against my inclination to wear a suit I decided to wear business casual; a nice pair of black dress slacks that just broke a crease over my newly shined wingtips and an expensive golf shirt. It was a good thing I dressed like that because as I took my seat I noticed that the only men wearing a coat and tie were the groom and the best man. The other groomsmen who were wearing a dress shirt and tie but no jacket.

After the groom and his cohorts took their place the music started and all eyes turned to the rear. As the bridesmaids started down the aisle in their obligatory one use only, and thankfully so bridesmaid dresses I thought I heard a dissonance in the somewhat solemn music. At first I couldn’t figure out what was causing what seemed to be an out of place rhythm, a nerve end irritating out of place syncopation. DA DA – FLAP! DA DA – FLAP! I became more and more curious as to what was disrupting the music‘s intended rhythm . As the first bridesmaid reached the aisle where I was sitting I looked down and immediately the mystery was solved. THE BRIDAL PARTY WAS WEARING FLIP-FLOPS! This abomination of anatomical attire had invaded one of society’s most solemn and sacrosanct rites of passage. It was all I could do to keep  from shouting out my feelings about the wearing of shower shoes at a wedding. Now I grant you these flip-flops were rather fancy, brightly colored and adorned with brightly colored beads. And they most likely were quite expensive, but still they were the lowest common denominator of the podiatry pyramid. When the bride made her entrance, she also had these abominations adorning her feet but fortunately as she slowly made her way down the aisle her flap – flap – flap was barely audible. The ceremony was nice and I was genuinely happy for the bride and groom. As the minister pronounced them husband and wife, they kissed and were presented to the audience as officially married. On signal the director of music (DJ) played a very nice quick tempo trumpet concerto  and the bridal party began its exit. This time the music was accompanied by a chorus of harshly staccatoed FLAPITY-FLAP! FLAPITY-FLAPITY FLAP! The bridal party couldn’t make its exit fast enough for me.

While flip-flops now seem to be accepted attire in schools, business, and in society’s most sacred rituals I know that I must capitulate and come to terms with their existence. However there is one occasion where I feel they are totally unacceptable – that is at funerals. In the past few weeks I have attended the funerals of two close friends. At the calling hours for both I noticed several women wearing flip-flops. It wasn’t just young women and teenagers who wore these abominations. They were also worn by several women of age exposing for all to see their gnarly, calloused feet, bunions and all. I want one and all to know that if you wear flip-flops to my funeral I will do my best to haunt you for the rest of your life. If my spirit is standing aside my coffin or if it hasn’t yet left my body and I hear the cacophony rubber meeting heel, I will do my best to rise from the dead and beat you severely about the head with your flip-flops.

Watching Momma Die

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A little less than two years ago my mother, Mirma Palosi, passed away at the age of 88. The passing of an 88 year old woman is usually of little note except to family and friends and the passing of anyone 88 years old is not to be unexpected. While her actual death is not newsworthy the manner in which she died bears telling.

During her 88 years my mother pretty much lived her life on her terms, as she saw fit. Working at a physically demanding job at the Sugardale Meat processing plant she supported three children without any help from anyone including her ex-husband. She retired from Sugardale in 1983 and possibly could have not worked again. But being a person that liked to keep active she found that retirement was not for her and after a few years went to work at the Massillon Kmart where she eventually finally retired at the age of 87 in January of 2008. In truth my mother worked until age 87 not only because she wanted to but also because she needed the money to pay for her bingo addiction. It was not unusual for her to drop a hundred bucks or more at bingo. We never said much to mother about her gambling habit because we figured that she was independent, paying her own way and not hurting anyone. Besides, it made her happy and after supporting the three of us she deserved to do what made her happy. She also derived great joy from her grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Even in her eighties she always had a twinkle in her eye and was a vibrant fully alive human being.

All that changed shortly after her retirement. At the time of her retirement she said that she was feeling tired quite a bit and that it might be time to slow down. In the months following her retirement her tiredness increased to the point where she became concerned and mentioned it to her doctor. At first he gave her some vitamin B and a prescription or two to help her feel better. When that didn’t help he ordered blood tests to try and figure out what was making her tired all the time. When the blood tests showed an high number of abnormal white blood cells her doctor referred her to the cancer center at Aultman hospital. The doctors there ordered more tests after which she was given an appointment to see an oncologist at the center. Her appointment was on July 24, 2008. When it came time for her to go to her appointment she asked me to go with her and as the eldest son I agreed to do so. However I did so with a little hesitancy since two years before I had taken a similar trip with my wife down the same long hallway to the same Aultman cancer center. As we entered the hospital we didn’t have to ask directions to the center since I was all too familiar with the center from my many trips there with my wife. I quite likely could have made the walk with my eyes closed.

When we were called back to see the doctor I was pretty sure the news was not going to be good. In a professional, almost abrupt manner the doctor told us that her tests showed that she had chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML), a cancer of the white blood cells. The doctor said that with treatment he had many patients survive for up to five years. At age 87 most people would be content with an additional five years, especially with good health. However as we would soon learn that any additional time for a person with CML comes with a price. A price that I am not sure was worth it. The first drug the oncologist prescribed was a drug called Gleevec. As usual the prescription came with the obligatory list of possible side effects. These lists of possible side effects are most likely prepared by the drug company’s attorneys with the intention of not only informing patients taking the drug of possible side effects, but also to protect the drug company from possible law suits. In my mother’s case the side effects listed turned out to be visited upon her in a most terrible way. Shortly after starting her drug therapy my mother developed severe pain in her legs. She quickly lost her appetite and was unable to do much including going to her precious bingo game. She stopped driving and family members did all her errands and took her places that she needed to go to. Trips to her primary care doctor and the oncologist became more and more frequent as she sought relief from the debilitating side effects of the drug she was taking. Trying to fight these side effects involved taking more and more drugs to try and make her feel better, but nothing helped. Eventually the oncologist switched my mother to a new drug – Sprycel. Sprycel did help the pain in her legs a little but not her other symptoms. Her appetite continued to diminish. She now could hardly eat or drink anything without nausea. Mom was a small woman to start with who never weighed more than 120 pounds in her life. Within two months of starting her drug therapy for this horrible disease she was reduced to less than a hundred pounds. I remember joking with my mom that she shouldn’t have retired. As long as she was working, even into her late 80’s she felt fine, but as soon as she retired this sickness was befell her.

In February 2009 a new phase in the progress of the disease started. In early February I got a call from my sister saying she had taken mom to the emergency room. Mom’s inability to eat or drink had weakened her to the point where she needed hospitalization. Once in the hospital she was given fluids to rehydrate her and oxygen to help her breathe better. This was the first of a series of trips to the emergency room that were to take place in the following months.  About this time, mom sensing what was to come started to give away her most prized possessions to members of her family. Mom never had a lot and what she wound up giving to her grandchildren and great grandchildren were mostly trinkets of only sentimental value. I think giving family members these items was mom’s way of hoping these small material things would help her loved ones remember her. During this time the family tried to keep mom active as much as possible. My sister would take her shopping and I would take her to lunch with her sisters which she enjoyed very much even if actually eating a meal was a struggle for her.

Around June the trips to the emergency room became more frequent and the duration of her hospital stays became longer. She really needed to be in a nursing home where she could get constant care, but mom was an independent woman for all of her 88 years and we acquiesced in not forcing her to go into a nursing home. She wanted to stay in her home and remain independent to the end.

In the middle of July mom called me and said that she needed to go to the emergency room again and would I take her. As I drove to pick her up I called the immediate family and told them that I was taking mom to the emergency room again. By this time we had all gotten used to these trips and we thought this trip would turn out the same as the trips before. We expected that she would be given the usual treatment and be sent home in a week’s time. And indeed it did seem that was to be the case. After a couple of days of treatment she had perked up to the point where she was sitting up in bed, was smiling and talking and even a little of that old twinkle was back in her eyes. When I walked in to see her on the third day she was in such good shape that I promised I would personally take her to her favorite bingo parlor after she got out of the hospital. It was a promise that I would be unable to keep. A couple of days later a little before 7 AM I received a call from her primary care physician; he had just gotten to mom’s room as he was making his rounds and he found her to be having great difficulty breathing. He had called the rapid response team to take her to the intensive care unit and said that I should get down there as soon as possible. I quickly called the immediate family and headed to Aultman hospital. When I arrived at the I.C.U. I was met by a group of doctor’s and a business representative of the hospital. The doctors explained mom’s condition to me and said that she had 16 hours or so left. They asked if mom had a living will and if I had a medical power of attorney to make decisions for her. When I left home I had a bad feeling about this call and jammed both documents in my pocket which I now presented to the doctors. Mom had left specific instructions that we were not to keep her alive by extraordinary measures – especially any sort of artificial life support. She had also told us that she didn’t want a large group of people standing around her bed in her final hours. This was a request that would soon be ignored. It wouldn’t be long before all the children and grandchildren would be surrounding her hospital bed.

When I entered her room I found her asleep, breathing slowly and wearing a clear plastic oxygen mask. She must have sensed my arrival as she awoke and looked at me with alarm in her eyes. She futilely tried to remove the mask and the nurse came in, told her to keep the mask on and tried to calm her down. Mom reached up, grasped the side of the mask and managed to move it enough to say something to me. In a voice just barely audible she asked “How much longer?”  I wasn’t able to answer her. All I could do was reach out, touch her hand and say “try to rest.” I wish I could of thought of something inspirational to say, but I couldn’t. All I could do was to hold her hand as if that might comfort her. As I held her hand I remember thinking that it was like I was just holding a skeleton of a hand encased in a loosely fitting glove of skin. This terrible disease had wasted her away to almost nothing – literally not much more than a bag of bones. During the next few hours the rest of my family arrived and filed into the room.  Around this time the nurse started giving mom morphine to ease her pain and she drifted off into unconsciousness. As the hours went by her breathing became slower – at times stopping for a brief moment in a preview of what was to come.  Daytime turned into darkness as family members would filter in and out but I stayed by her side – the dutiful eldest son. Late in the evening we were able to contact the priest from St. George’s Greek Orthodox Church and shortly before midnight he administered the last rites. Mom had often told us that she didn’t want a priest to give her the last rights. This was the last of mom’s instructions that I would ignore.

As I watched the sun rising out of the window in mom’s room her primary care physician came into the room, looked at the monitors and in a surprisingly matter of fact manner said, “It won’t be long now.”  He then turned and without saying another word walked out of the room. I stood there awhile looking at the monitors wondering what he saw and I decided to go tell the other members of the family who were in the ICU waiting room that if they wanted to say a finale goodbye they might want to come into mom’s room. Some of them had gone down to the cafeteria for breakfast and as others went to get them I went back to my mother’s bedside. As I walked into the room I stood at the foot of her bed and looked at her. After a few moments I looked up at the monitors just at the exact moment her brave heart beat its last. The lines of the monitor went flat as if to officially let me know that the end was there. It was the only time I had ever been present at the moment of death of someone and I remember thinking how casually her life left her. There was no death rattle, no involuntary body spasms to dramatically signal the end of her life. If I had to pick any words to describe that moment they might the words from the Peggy Lee song “Is that all there is?”

The actual moment of my mom’s death at 7:50 AM on July 23, 2009 was anticlimactic. In reality I had been watching her die for almost an entire year. She died one day short of the one year anniversary of the day we received her diagnosis of having CML. For 87 years mom lived life as a  fully alive human being. Her vibrancy and joy in living was taken from her in a way she did not deserve. This insidious disease that  took her life was not worthy of her. The slow, painful withering away of one who lived so fully was not appropriate. She deserved better. Now her suffering was finally over and maybe as people are prone to say – she is in a better place. I don’t know if that is true or not. All I do know is – we miss you mom.

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