the brains of dolphins

This article about dolphins from 2003 made me smile. Enjoy!
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Empty nest or open face sandwich?

Excuse the (very) mixed metaphor.

As I’ve mentioned before, my spouse and I may have gone into empty nest phase for the final time, with our younger daughter heading off to grad school. Our older daughter is also in grad school – and holding down a job, married, and living 5,000 miles away.  Someone commented to me that empty nest for the sandwich generation is of a somewhat different order than our image of it. Maybe now it’s an open-face sandwich?

Back on July 24th when I wrote the linked post above, I had planned to realign how I use my daytime hours, make some lifestyle adjustments, and readjust how we use some of the space in our home. I anticipated these as some empty nest blessings, although paling in comparison to the biggest blessing, which is that our daughters, both of whom have faced health challenges, are well enough to be off on their own.

And, thank God, our daughters are doing well, finding their way as independent young adults, while still being connected to our family, even with the (considerable) physical distance that separates us.

In the sandwich generation metaphor, one slice of bread is the younger generation, one’s children and sometimes grandchildren. The other slice of bread is the elder generation, with the adult child as the filling squeezed between. Maybe the baby birds eat the top slice of bread to give them strength to leave the nest behind and fly off on their own? Seriously, trying to make these metaphors work together somehow….

My parents, Nana and Paco, and B’s mom, Grandma, live in a nearby senior living complex, my parents in an apartment and Grandma in a cottage. They are all in their 80s and in independent living. As with most people who reach that decade, each was dealing with health issues, but nothing that hadn’t become routine, so, in June and July, anticipating my daughter’s departure for grad school in August, I felt justified in making some plans for myself as an empty nester.

And then, on July 31st, in a coincidence that would have seemed overly contrived if it had been fiction, Nana had a heart attack in the ambulatory surgery unit as Paco was about to be wheeled down to hernia repair surgery.  It sounds dramatic – and it felt dramatic to be in the midst of it – but, after an August filled with doctors’ visits, complications, new medications, and adjustments, Nana and Paco – and I – began to settle into a new normal, with them slowly getting back to their routine of activities, errands, outings, and social time and me back to the daily phone calls, frequent visits, and trying to keep an eye on the medical side of things, especially the complex interplay of all the different diagnoses and meds.

Just as I was thinking that maybe I could get to my own schedule adjustments and other empty-nest projects, Grandma progressed from a September backache to a diagnosis of a lumbar 1 compression fracture to the shattering of that vertebra to a hospital visit to inject bone cement to stabilize it to a period of in-home physical and occupational therapy to increasing trouble with atrial fibrillation to a second hospital stay to being back at home with in-home therapy, all accompanied by problems with pain control, loss of appetite, weight loss, medication changes and side effects, and more worries than I can count. The stress level has been difficult to deal with and, as if to prove it, I developed shingles about a week before Christmas.  I caught it early and got on antivirals right away, so my case was much milder than others I have heard reported, but I am still having some pain along the affected nerve.

This fall, I jettisoned a bunch of what I had planned to do as an empty nester, trying to deal with the ever-changing health challenges of our elders, and, as the new year starts, it is unclear how much of my plans will be feasible/possible/desirable to reclaim.

The amazing thing to me is that I managed to retain one of my original goals, which was to work on my writing, especially my poetry – certainly not perfectly or as much as I had envisioned, but enough that I have made noticeable progress.

July 31st fell toward the end of the summer sessions of the Binghamton Poetry Project and my correspondence with our instructor led to an opportunity to join a biweekly ongoing workshop of established local poets. I knew that what I needed most to grow as a poet was feedback from a group of knowledgeable, creative, and understanding poets so that I could learn to revise my poems to make them stronger. Even though that opportunity came in mid-September just as things with Grandma were beginning to spiral, I would not allow myself to miss it. So, I printed out copies of a poem and showed up, even though my natural introversion makes groups, especially groups where I know no one, daunting and I feared that the other poets, all of whom publish, teach, give readings, etc., would wonder what ever possessed me to think I should be there among them.

And, despite my fears, it has worked beyond what I had thought possible. The other poets have been accepting of me and constructive in their criticism and I am learning so much not only from suggested revisions to my own work but also from reading, listening to comments, and responding to my fellow poets’ work. Despite my lack of experience, I do have things to say about others’ poems, or at least questions to ask.  I am so grateful to each of them for being so welcoming and generous to me.

Now, I need to get my act together to research and submit some of my newly revised poems for publication. Maybe soon?

I am also proud that I managed to keep Top of JC’s Mind going throughout the year. I was never one for making resolutions and this past year shows why, but I will try to keep growing as a poet and as a blogger.

I hope you will keep reading.

(Even though only some of this post was jotted in January, I figured I might as well add the link for the pingback: .)


Jokes about fruitcake at Christmas are standard, but fruitcakes are not universally worthy of derision.

Most years, we make several loaves of a wonderful fruitcake. The base recipe came from a co-worker of B’s in his first post-college job and we have modified it over the years to suit our tastes. The main thing that sets it apart from other fruitcakes is that it uses no candied fruits and peels. No unnaturally bright red and green cherries. No citron. All the fruits we use are dried – prunes, apricots, dates, raisins, pineapple, and cherries. (There is also mashed banana in the batter.)

We just finished chopping the dried fruits and have set them to soak until tomorrow in a bit of cider. The recipe calls for brandy, but we prefer non-alcoholic fruitcake, so we use juice.

Ordinarily, the fruitcake would have been made prior to Christmas Day, but this is not an ordinary year. We will keep a couple of mini loaves for ourselves and bring one to B’s mom, but most of the loaves will go to my parents. My father is especially fond of our fruitcake and will slice, wrap, and freeze it to enjoy over the coming months. He likes to bring a slice to enjoy with coffee at Wegman’s while Mom is picking up a few items in the store. He especially loves apricots, so we put extra in for him.

Our fruitcake is definitely too tasty to re-gift!

Update:  A friend asked if I’d share the recipe.  Enjoy!

A different Christmas/Eve

This Christmas does not look like others at our house. There are far fewer decorations. There is a wreath on the door only because I ordered one many weeks ago through a Garden Ministry fundraiser at church. We do have a fir lovingly decorated with decades-worth of special ornaments, including one we bought this year that was crafted by an artisan on the BIg Island of Hawai’i, but only because my spouse B and daughter T did the stringing of lights and hanging of ornaments.

My angel cardholder is full of Christmas greetings from friends and family.

And that is about it. No creche on the mantel. No carol singers in the dining room. No Christmas-theme magnets on the refrigerator. No needlework nutcracker hanging from the doorknob.

As those who know me personally or who always read my blog or Facebook posts know, this December has been challenging for me. Assisting my mother-in-law through health issues, including a five-day hospital stay, following on several months of prior difficulties, was time-consuming, so I had already pared down my to-do list for the holidays. Then, last week, I developed shingles and the list got pared down some more with most of the tasks getting allocated to B and T.

The one major task that I retained was sending holiday greetings to friends and family. There are a number of people with whom I only connect at Christmastime – faraway friends who I have not seen in years but who still hold a special place in my heart, family that I used to see on a regular basis, but who are now living in different states, friends whom I have known for decades – and others that I still see on a regular basis but want to greet and reminisce with for the holidays. I prefer to choose individual cards, signed by hand, with small handwritten notes or longer printed personalized letters enclosed, sealed with a Christmas Seal and posted with a holiday stamp appropriate to the recipient. I accepted early in December that this was not going to be an ideal year, so I settled on writing a letter that would go to nearly everyone on my list sans card.

Writing the letter proved to be difficult as it involved re-living some very emotional times of the past year. It was lucky that I drafted it when I did, as the bulk of the work was done before my mother-in-law’s hospital stay. When I came down with shingles, I still had not had a chance to print the letters and address the envelopes, so, as B and T took over everything else, I sat and folded, addressed, sealed, and stamped, so that nearly all of them went into the mail on Saturday. Most will arrive in time for Christmas or the end of Hanukkah, while some that have a longer journey may not arrive until closer to New Year’s Eve, but I feel warm-hearted, knowing that I have sent part of myself out to friends and family at this special time of year. (Full disclosure:  There are several shameless plugs for Top of JC’s Mind in the letter. We’ll see if anyone actually visits because of it. 😉 )

We have already completed an important part of our Christmas celebration. My sisters and families came for a couple of days to see us and my parents. In recent years, we have exchanged meals rather than gifts, with their meals being in area restaurants and ours a traditional meal at our home. We make a rolled beef-rib roast, prepared on the 50+ year old rotisserie that belonged to my parents before they moved to an apartment. For dessert, we always make pies. This year it was apple, apple blackberry, and maple-and-brown-sugar pecan.

B got extra fancy with the crust for the pecan with tiny Christmas tree cutouts along the edge!

I was too tired from the shingles to be much help in the kitchen, although I did peel and slice most of the apples for the pies. It was odd not to be (wildly) orchestrating everything and everyone in the kitchen, but I and everyone else enjoyed the meal immensely. I had to absent myself from some of the activities while my sisters were here in order to rest, but I was grateful to be well enough to enjoy their visit. Anti-viral meds are wonderful!

T and I attended Christmas vigil Mass tonight at 6, with T’s former handbell choir and the instrumental ensemble and choir providing music. During the intercessions, we prayed for Sister Rose Margaret Noonan, csj, whom I consider one of my spiritual mothers. She passed away last night. She lived a life of service to God and people as a Sister of Saint Joseph of Carondelet for many decades – she was in her upper 90s – and lived the priestly life to which she was called to the extent possible within the current structure of the Catholic Church. While I’m sad that she is not here any longer, I rejoice knowing that she lives in the joy of God’s presence in heaven.

B has baked date and cranberry breads for Christmas breakfast. There will be stockings and presents to open, although that will be relatively quick as not much Christmas shopping transpired. No one is very fussed about there being many fewer than usual Christmas presents this year. Anything we really need will get purchased in the days and weeks ahead. There is a brunch reservation up at Good Shepherd Village dining room for us to eat with the three resident grand/parents. There will be time for gift exchange with them and then it may be naptime. While I am lucky that my case of shingles is not very severe, there is still some pain and fatigue, so I am trying to be reasonable and plan some down time.

I wish a very merry Christmas to all who celebrate it and gifts of peace, joy, and harmony to all!

Joanne C.


As some of you know, this fall has been rough, as we deal with myriad health issues with one of the family elders.  (In truth, the fall had a bit of a rough run-up as we dealt with both of my parents having their own medical issues, but things are going much better with them now.)

I have been doing much to-ing and fro-ing and have needed to grab little snatches of consolation, comfort, and beauty as I can find them. I was grateful for the unusually vibrant fall foliage this year, beginning early with the first peaks of gold among the green of the hillsides and ending with our neighbors vivid red Japanese maple.

 Even after all the leaves had fallen, I continued to marvel at the white chrysanthemum on our front porch. I had originally bought the plant from the grocery store to clip some blossoms to fill in for some wilted flowers in a Christmas centerpiece almost three years ago. I had managed to keep it alive indoors and it offered a blossom here and there, but this spring, I asked my husband to re-pot it and put it outdoors.  To my surprise, it flourished and offered hardy white blossoms that withstood several hard frosts until the snows came.

With the cold weather, we started to put out birdseed and suet in our feeders and I delight in catching glimpses of chickadees, jays, finches, woodpeckers, juncos,  tufted titmouse, cardinals, and nuthatches enjoying the food.

The best gift of the fall was the visit of both of our daughters and our son-in-law for Thanksgiving.  I am still holding in my mind the picture of us around the Thanksgiving table with the three grandparents.  We were too busy eating and enjoying each others’ company for photo ops, but here is a photo our older daughter took of her spouse and sister tending to the birdfeeders in the snow. Larry, who grew up in London, was relishing in the eight inches of snow we received. Now living in Hawai’i, he was not used to that much snow at once!

Still, despite my best efforts, I have recently had a bit of a crash. Last Friday, I spent hours working on a letter that I plan to send in lieu of holiday cards this year. I needed to recap the year and finally cried over a lot of the difficulties that I had been powering through because I had to keep going for those who were depending on me.

I thought I had gotten the melancholy out of my system until I was sitting next to my parents in church Sunday morning. The handbell choir and adult choir were both participating, which was emotional for reasons I wrote about here.  The First Sunday of Advent, I had been in church with my daughters and son-in-law all singing beside me. On this Second Sunday, the handbell choir was processing and the choir and assembly were singing “Christ, Circle Round Us”, a setting of the “O” antiphons by Dan Schutte, and my daughters weren’t there to join in. I started crying and barely sang the hymn, even though I love it. I had my face turned away from my mom, hoping she wouldn’t see my tears. I found out later, she was also emotional, thinking back to all the years she had heard her granddaughters singing and ringing in church.

Like the autumn leaves, sometimes tears need to fall, too.

Thanksgiving journal

In the United States, today is Thanksgiving Day. There were eight of us today at our home for the traditional turkey dinner – and what I am most thankful for was that there were the eight of us together around our table today.

B and I had our younger daughter T on break from her master’s program at ESF in Syracuse and our elder daughter and son-in-law all the way from Honolulu, Hawai’i, where they are both graduate students. The last time the five of us were together in our home was at Christmastime almost three years ago, when a Christmas morning marriage proposal set the stage for the happy addition of L to the family.

Rounding out the party were three members of our elder generation, my parents – Nana and Paco – and B’s mom – Grandma. They have each had their share of health issues over the last few months, so it was a true blessing that they were all able to be there, especially Grandma. This was her first extended sojourn anywhere other than for medical appointments this fall. We were grateful that the lovely eight inches of snow we got yesterday didn’t derail the transport plans.

A special feature of the celebration this year was that T was doing an extended entry in her journal for an ethnobotany course she is taking. They have been writing about their personal and cultural relationship with plants and they had a bonus assignment to write about their family traditions in celebrating Thanksgiving. T filled several pages with stories about how our apple pie techniques have evolved over time, how the bread stuffing with sausage came from my side of the family while the baked onions came from B’s side, and how B learned to flatten a turkey to help it cook more quickly. T got to ask Grandma about where her Aunt Gert had acquired the Indian pudding recipe that we make and L got to experience eating it for the first time. As a British-Filipino, American Thanksgiving is a relatively new phenomenon, much less a New England dessert like Indian pudding. For the record, he enjoyed it!

This was definitely a Thanksgiving to savor. As our children proceed with their adult lives and establish their own households, they may be able to travel to our home less and less frequently. While we hope to have all of our elder generation with us for more years, the recent health scares remind us that they may not be able to be out and about as they were today.

All the more reason to be especially thankful this year.

Mytwosentences 83

A beautiful photo and thought on a cold November morning.



The grandparents had a comfy cozy home filled with generations of family who had come to celebrate the 50th wedding anniversary of an endearing duo that always made time for each other.
As gathered guests patiently waited, the elder twain took their love on that daily walk which was a cherished time to trade soft kisses and secretly enjoy a special togetherness found rustling with the leaves.
(Photo: Edward Roads)

Written by Edward Roads

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