Saturday, 21 September 2013

The Small Miracle of Renovations

For years, I've sat in my living room and surveyed the landscape.

Paint job at least 20 years old. Dated colours. Stained "cream" carpet that would never be pristine again.


But so was I.

One problem was the paint job extended through the living room, dining room, hall, up the stairs and into the upstairs hall. My "roller arm" ached at the thought of it. I had no energy for a huge job, and no money to pay someone else.

"I like the walls the way they are. Hunter green and dusty rose are lovely colours." That's what I told everybody. If I waited much longer, I would be retro, and retro was "in."

Then, after almost 5 years of widowhood, I remarried. "Those are old lady colours." my husband said.

Well then.

I had a week off in January, and decided to get started. I thought I could get half of it done if I worked every day.

I am such a dreamer.

The first job was to remove the wallpaper border that separated the hunter green and dusty rose in the living room area. I planned half a day for this.  (Refer back to the "dreamer" notation) Three gruelling days later which involved soaking and scraping and a little under-my-breath swearing, I removed the last piece of wallpaper.

The walls were close enough to the kitchen to require the removal of 20 years of grime and grease before painting. Washing, rinsing, washing, rinsing. And who knew I had so many pictures on the walls? After several years, they become part of the wall, and you don't notice them--until they are removed. Not only is there a much cleaner square behind them, but a hole in the wall. Multiply that by, oh say, three million, and you get the picture. (Sorry, weak pun.)

My vacation was long over, and we hadn't picked up a paintbrush. I work every second weekend, and no one wants to spend every free weekend working on the house. Weeks and months slipped by. We didn't entertain, because we were living in a construction zone. Cleaning was a necessary but discouraging exercise. Nothing looked clean when I finished.

Nine months later, our renovation was born--er, completed. Along the way, we learned a few valuable lessons.

The Top Ten Things I Learned From Renovations

10. My husband hates painting. This was a frequent topic of conversation at various times. While driving in the car. Before going to sleep. While painting. I got it.

9. Our marriage survived renovations, but it was tricky at times. When we were nearing the end of the painting phase, there was a day I spent much longer than I should have on it. I was exhausted when he came home from work and went upstairs to change. He paused outside our bedroom door and casually said, "You know you have a drip here?" I will draw a curtain across the rest of the conversation. Suffice it to say, he saw a new, seldom-visible side of his sweet wife.

8. Renovations grow. Maybe some people plan out every detail before they start, but for us, what started as a fresh paint job turned into new curtains, hardwood floors, 11 new doors and a new couch and chairs (yet to be purchased). We seemed to always get it backwards. After I carefully taped and painted the baseboards in the living room, we decided to rip out the carpet (and of course, those same baseboards) and put in hardwood floors. When I taped around the door frame and carefully avoided any paint on the first door, we decided to get new doors. Sigh.

7. Math is not my thing (to the same degree you would say, "Chicken pox is not my thing.") but I have discovered a new equation. Each change in your renovation plan requires an amount of time and money infinitely greater than you expected. New doors need to be painted. It took two full weekends and three evenings, not the one weekend I planned.

6. When renos are done, the rules change. For the dog: no more sitting on the furniture. (Okay, it's still the old furniture, but he needs to learn before the new arrives.) For us: slippers must be worn on the hardwood floors.

"But we don't own slippers."
"Then we need to buy some."

5. Which leads me to my next learning curve. The cost of the renovations is only the beginning. There are new switches (which could technically be classed as part of the renos) and cushions (because the deacon's bench was moved into the living room, and looks bare) and a wooden table for the printer (because the plastic one looks gauche) and on and on. It's fun as things come together, but expensive.

4. Renovations changed me. I used to hang pictures with abandon, but now realise that a slightly bare look is more spacious. There will be pictures, but each requires serious consideration. And the purchase (see #5) of some of those picture-hanger-thingies. I have an absolute horror of putting a nail in a wall. I now know the repercussions of that.

3. Renovations fill your life, and are a fascinating topic of conversation. To you. Friends and co-workers were kind, but I got the impression they wanted to stick their fingers in their ears and chant "la la la la la..." when I talked about our progress.

2. It was all worth it. I sit in my living room and survey the new landscape. Fresh paint in classy, updated colours. Beautiful floors that match the wood of my furniture. Wonderful doors that close and aren't kicked in at the bottom. I'm glad God doesn't allow us to see the future. I'm not sure I would have had the courage to face what was ahead of me if I'd known. But having given birth to this baby, I am delighted with it.

1. I will never, under any circumstances, do this again. Next time, we pay someone. I have learned time is a precious and limited commodity. You choose how you spend it.

If you see me with a paint brush in my hand, or even lingering in the hardware store, remove the offending object, and buy me a cup of coffee.

The insanity will pass.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Caregiver Wednesdays- Communication pt. 5

Thank you for your patience, readers! Our house has been "under construction" for nine months, but the last two weeks were intense, and I made the decision not to write until it was done. We are finished, and I am back. Look for a blog about renovations soon...

Learning to communicate with someone with dementia is like learning a new language. You have to practise, sometimes you get it wrong, and it takes great patience.

But when you actually communicate, it's immensely satisfying for everyone.

Here are some tools for your box.

1) Ask questions that require "yes" or "no" answers. For someone with limited speech, this may be the only way they can communicate. It's difficult, so if you know you are going into that kind of a situation, go armed with several questions to carry the conversation. When you are using these, intersperse monologue, Again, think ahead of cute or funny stories, or reminiscences to which the person may relate. It doesn't matter if they remember. Just tell the story as if for the first time. I am always telling stories about my dog, or funny things I have done. My reward is a huge smile.

2) Don't correct information. It doesn't matter if they get it wrong, and you risk making them angry or sad through pointing out their mistakes.

3) Ask questions about the good old days. Besides having conversation, you may find out some valuable information.

4) Related to #3--ask advice. "Mom, I have to make Thanksgiving dinner this year. What would you serve? What do you think of squash? Should I have turnip too?"

5) Have your radar up. If communication isn't going well, watch for clues. Are they tired? Do they need to go to the bathroom? Are they ill? Watch for non-verbal clues.

6) Sometimes you go down a conversational path that doesn't work, and the person becomes angry or agitated. Try agreeing with them. I agree in all kinds of situations, "Yes, you're right, that was stupid." and then distract if possible. "I feel like going for a walk. Would you like to come with me?" "Should we have some ice cream?" (Remember this--ICE CREAM IS A GREAT DISTRACTER!)  Not to be overused, but it's amazing how a person will calm down with a bowl of ice cream in front of them.

7) Don't get discouraged by a conversation that doesn't work or an unsuccessful visit. If it's possible to come back later, do that. If not, try again next time. Some visits will be magic!

8) Be patient.

9) Be patient.

10) Be patient.

Next week: How to communicate with someone who lives in a different reality from you.