Monday, July 13, 2009

An Update from the Trenches

I've been quiet, blog-wise, for a long time, but busy "off screen."

This week, we are in the final push to move into Mom's house by July 21st (which is when we've told our landlord we will be out). The house is not quite ready, so I am a bit nervous about whether the plumber will have the essential work done in time. And by "ready" I mean just able to physically accommodate me, the girls, and our bare necessities. We need to be able to sleep, cook, use a bathroom, hook up a computer, have room to sit down. It will take many months for the house to be fully re-organized and repaired.

On top of her cognitive issues, Mom had a mini-stroke in June. She has recovered well, but now takes a lot more medications than she once did. Her license to drive has been taken, and her independence much reduced. It is a sad time for her. We now think she does not have Alzheimer's, but that she may have had a number of small strokes that were not recognized. That is both good and bad news. I feel even more sharply the urgency of writing down more of her stories.

Once we are moved in, I hope to start blogging again, as we begin to completely reorganize a house filled to the brim with stuff, some useful, some not. It raises interesting questions of what needs stocking up for an uncertain future, and how much is enough. My mother's OCD/hoarding tendencies made her stockpiling ritualistic and excessive, but her urges are very similar to the things we talk about wanting to accomplish with our Independence challenges and our various prepping activities.

Jars, for instance. We've recycled vast amounts of saved glass and plastic jars. Possibly thousands, in carloads to the township recycling center. We've kept the canning jars (maybe 150), freezer containers, the larger glass jars with intact lids. We've recycled the rest - too many different sizes, all with different lids. I want to have only 2-3 lid sizes to manage.

There are still dozens of jars of hardware to look through - many dating back to my father's workshop days - but he's been gone for 27 years. Some will end up with the metal scrap. There is a huge metal scrap pile in the backyard, along with a large wood scrap pile, and a mountain of cardboard to be flattened - all bound for various recycling destinations. Hundreds of cans of old oil-based paint and house/garden chemicals will go to a hazardous waste collection event in the fall. There are also many 4-5 gallon plastic food buckets with lids, round and square. My mom used them ineffectively, but I am keeping them for now - future food storage.

Some things were more of an artifact of her hoarding disorder. Onions skins, for instance. Bags, bottles, and boxes tucked in everywhere. Long ago (40 years?), she did a craft project that involved dying eggs with onions skins. She's been saving them since, wanting to do more of that, but not able to do anything at all in her disordered house. The phrase "disordered house" is so apt in this situation. Onion skins can be useful, but there is no danger we will run out, since we grow onions.

Lest it all seem grim, we have also found many interesting things, some of which will be blogged later. My teen daughters were fascinated by a pile of Seventeen magazines from the 70's. I kept some Boys Life to give to my brother. Funny lists I made when I was in 7th grade. My mother's wedding shoes. Negatives from my father's darkroom. Jars full of seashells from our beach trips. Things my father and grandfather brought back from WWII.

There are also useful things. Lots of tools, books, lumber, plastic sheeting, fire wood. The many buckets and canning jars. (Oddly, I never recall my mother canning - I think she stopped when I was very young). A vintage croquet set and other games. Clothing, sheets, towels. Envelopes, stationary, wrapping paper. Hundreds of gloves (another item of obsessive focus for Mom). No need to go to yard sales this year!

And... we have only done the very-densely-packed cellar, garage, hallway, part of the living room. We still have the rest of the LR, a dining room, most of the kitchen, 4 bedrooms, 2 attic spaces, an enclosed back porch, and a crawl space. There is a collapsing garden shed to be emptied and torn down. We've been putting out 8 bags of trash twice a week, plus bulk items, and trips to the recycling center. We already have a very large "yard sale" department growing in the garage.

We have been using a rented storage unit to pack up our old household until there is room at Mom's. We got rid of a lot of our own stuff. Mom's situation has lead us all to examine our own habits of acquisition and disposal. I wonder if DD16 will now ever keep anything she cannot make digital.

A few weeks ago, I did manage to make small batch of strawberry jelly at our house. Two pints plus a half-pint. Nothing like the 18-24 pints I had intended to make, as DD12 will only eat strawberry. But, better than nothing. I suspect I will be doing few of the things I really want to be doing, until the major sorting effort is done.

Much more to tell another day. We canceled most of our TV cable and are making media adaptations. DH is off at grad school, working hard in a completely different way. DD12 is adapting badly to the changes in our life and we are seeking family counseling with her. DD16 is making choices about how to do high school. We are all facing a possible move to a new city when DH comes out of grad school next fall.

What a whirlwind we live in, right now.


pelenaka said...

Here's a prayer for stamina & peaceful rest when you lay your head down @ night.

Anonymous said...

Sending lots of loving thoughts your way as you navigate this journey.

eunice said...

glad to hear from you. wishes coming your way to help you shoulder your way through your whirlwind (my mind can't wrap around the 16 bags of trash you are hauling per week). and one big deep breath of strength for the decisions you and your family need to make together.

Matriarchy said...

Thank you all for the kind thoughts. It's a tough week. We are all tired. It's emotionally grueling, dealing with the physical result of years of untreated mental illness. I had tried and tried to get her help; she still resists a support group or counselor. The rest of us will go instead, I suppose.

Anonymous said...

Hello, and good to hear from you! I am adding my good thoughts and strengthening feelings to the others sent your way. You are going through so much on so many different fronts, just taking it one day at a time is all anyone could ask, just one step at a time.

Marie said...

It was good of you to post an update in your busy life. I'm sure your story is helping others deal with the problems in their life. My thoughts are with you.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for updating us. It is so good to read your blog. I don't even quite know why your story is so interesting to me, except that all of us deal with these things to some degree or other. Also, I find it fascinating to read all the work you are doing! You continue to amaze me--and I know I've said that too much! I love to imagine the disorder being turned to order, cleanliness, preparedness. I love to do that in my own life, too.

You have my prayers, as well, for strength and stamina to get through all this. It would have to be done someday--I hope your girls know what a blessing they are to you and their grandma for helping with this process. And what a blessing you are!

stefe said...

I was so happy to see you post after your absence. I too am going through a hoarding/OCD ordeal so I can relate on that level. I found that by thinking of this disorder as many small projects, I can move forward no matter what the next pile brings along with recycling to make me feel better. Hang in there!

Gina said...

More positive thoughts your way! I was glad to find an update today (i miss your wonderful, detailed posts!!)

i have not crossed a bridge like this yet, but will one day as my own OC, hoarding mother ages. Currently, she is still independent and has resisted our help (my siblings and I). We know we have work ahead when my mother can no longer care for herself.

i give you so much credit for taking this head on!

(And can't wait to hear about the treasures!)