Walking My Mother Home*

April 28, 2023

About six weeks ago, my mom’s Hospice nurse called to let me know that they’d noticed a marked decline in my mom’s condition and that she had stopped eating. In end-of-life terminology, she was probably “transitioning.” After a day or two of phone calls and a flurry of actions to try to set up my life to function without me for an unknown period, I flew to California on a one-way ticket to spend what would be the last two weeks of her life with my mom.

She passed away April 8.

“It’s been a great ride”

When I first arrived, she knew who I was and could respond with a few words or a facial expression, and she could hold my hand. Every day I came to the nursing home where she was being cared for, spending most of the day by her side. This was one of the most emotionally grueling things I’ve ever done, but I wanted to pour into her some of the lifetime of love she’d given me. I had plenty of time to reflect on our relationship, cry, begin the grieving process, and try to say everything I needed to say before saying good-bye.

The staff found a comfortable rocker/recliner for me, and I positioned myself where I could look out a window. My mother-in-law always said it helped her during hard times to find a patch of blue sky to look at, and I found myself doing that often.

One of the nurses showed me how to find soothing music videos on YouTube, and every day I chose a new one. The music calmed me, and perhaps my mom, too.

I’d leave every day wondering if I’d see her again. By the end, I’d lost my mom in every way that mattered and all that remained was the shell of her body. Still, the finality of her death crushed me.  My heart still breaks at the idea of never being able to hug my mom again.

One of the last pictures I have of us together

My mother taught me to love books, to sew, and to put aside doing chores when you’re exhausted and need to recharge. She read me bedtime stories and took me horseback riding even though she was afraid of horses. She was proud of me and didn’t try to change me, even when she didn’t understand me. For so many years it was just the two of us (my parents divorced when I was three), and it wasn’t until I was a mother myself that I realized how challenging it must have been for my mom to support us financially and take care of me at the same time. My father didn’t live in the same town and it wasn’t until I was older that I was able to spend significant time with him.

When I moved to Florida, we didn’t get to see each other nearly as much as we wanted. I missed the everyday simple pleasures of being able to meet for a meal or go shopping together, and as she got older, I hated being across the country from her. She had troubles and challenges in life, but she’d tell you, as she told a nurse, “It’s been a great ride.”

One last loving act

I think my mom performed one last, loving act as a mother. My friend Kerri arrived on the afternoon of April 8 to spend her spring break with me, and no more than an hour later, my mom was gone. I don’t know how I would have coped if I’d been alone and I think my mom waited until my friend was with me.

As I went through some of her belongings, I found old date books filled with dinners out, church activities, and family visits, and literal drawers filled with cards and letters from loved ones. I found notebooks with lists of goals, art and craft supplies, and file folders with decorating ideas and places she wanted to go. (I do the same thing: fill notebooks with ideas and folders with cut out pictures and articles!) I found awards she’d won in 4-H, lists of books she read in high school, and a medal from the Arthur Murray Dance Studio. My mom loved to dance, and I like to think of her dancing again now that she’s no longer in pain.

I have more family articles to sort through, and more memories to explore as I begin the task of living without my mom. I am slowly looking at a few of these at a time, to avoid being swamped by grief. Recent memories like playing cutthroat games of chicken foot dominoes, and older ones, like the day when I was a teenager that she came home driving a brand new, electric blue Camaro, a gift she'd given herself. 

I’m home again briefly before we return for a graveside service next month.  The last thing I can do for my mom is to fulfill her wish to be buried with my stepfather.

I miss my mom already. This Mother’s Day will be painful, since I’ve lost two of my three moms this year. Even when grief squeezes me like a giant hand, or my eyes well with tears at odd moments, I know that even though it hurts, I was lucky to have Judith Allen Weingarten as my mom.

*One of my friends used this phrase when I told her my mom was declining and I was going to be with her. I thought it perfectly described the situation.


Catching Happiness Temporarily on Hold

February 08, 2023

Just dropping in to say that until further notice, Catching Happiness and the Happy Little Things newsletter will be on hold. My mother-in-law’s condition has deteriorated, and on top of that, my mom is in the hospital in California and I will shortly be flying out to help her. I’m fortunate to have friends and family support, and I hope to be back with you soon.


How Thin the Line

May 27, 2022

Photo by Anika Huizinga on Unsplash

While I hope to start posting regularly to Catching Happiness again soon, I’m not quite there yet. To give you an idea of what’s happening, here is an excerpt from May’s Happy Little Thoughts newsletter:

It’s been nearly a month since I stepped away from Catching Happiness to handle a family health emergency, and I’m sorry to say that emergency has only become more serious. My mother-in-law, Carol, who has lived with us since early last year, has been seriously ill with multiple health issues, including two stints in the hospital and one round of major surgery. She’s home now, stable, and we’re being supported by Hospice care. 

This experience has been shocking for all of us, and an example of just how quickly life can change. Until a month ago, Carol was completely independent and seemingly healthy. We’re still finding our way, figuring out what is comforting and helpful, what she can and can’t do for herself. I’m still figuring out how to be her caregiver while also taking care of myself. It’s a steep learning curve. How much I took for granted!

Breathing, for example.

One of Carol’s most troubling symptoms was the inability to breathe easily. With the help of oxygen and medication, she’s doing much better, but she felt like she was suffocating, and it terrified her (understandably). Until recently, I hadn’t spent much time contemplating the gift of being able to breathe! The simple act of drawing air into my lungs. Talk about a simple pleasure!

Of course, we’d become paralyzed if we constantly thought about how thin the line is between breath and suffocation, health and sickness, freedom and dependence, life and death. But it doesn’t hurt to stop now and then, as I’ve been forced to, to think on those things. To evaluate how we’re living our lives, whether or not we’re doing the things we want to do, being the people we want to be.

My advice is: If there’s something you want to do, don't wait. Find a way to make it happen. You never know when life will change abruptly and youll find it impossible to pursue those dreams.


Welcome to the Jungle

August 13, 2021

Photo by Su San Lee on Unsplash

We had our carpets cleaned on Monday.

We prepped for this by moving everything movable out of the rooms to be cleaned—small pieces of furniture, storage boxes, and so on. This is what our family room looked liked:

There was also this:

For the past four months, our house has been in more than its usual state of shambles. We already had our adult son living and working remotely from his childhood bedroom when in February my mother-in-law permanently moved out of her apartment into what was our guest room/exercise space. We’ve scrambled to find places to store things we’d kept in her closet (hurricane supplies and holiday decorations, for example) and furniture we didn’t want to get rid of since we knew our son was with us temporarily. He moved out in June, and before we made over his room into our new guest room/exercise space, we needed to clean his carpet, and, well, why not clean all the carpets in the house?

Bear with me, I do have a point…

While I was staring at the chaos in my family room, I realized it quite beautifully reflects the unsettled nature of my inner world right now. My personal space situation plus some additional family challenges (not to mention the state of the world!) have affected my mood, my creativity, and my outlook on life. Even my office, which used to be a haven, had become a dumping ground of paper, projects, and other things that needed to be read or otherwise dealt with. Projects I started at the beginning of the year when I felt optimistic had been buried by an onslaught of paper and other ephemera of decisions made and unmade to the point where I didn’t even want to go in there anymore. (I was embarrassed to have the carpet cleaning guy see it!)

Does this ever happen to you? Your surroundings or events in your personal life become overwhelming, and you feel unable to focus, or make progress on your goals, or even feel optimistic about the future? That’s how I've been feeling. But now that the carpets are dry, and we’ve moved almost everything where it needs to go, I feel more hopeful. I’ve spent much of this week sifting through the Pit of Despair (formerly known as my office), and I’ve made progress there, too.

The chaos is lifting. And while I slowly sort my way through the remaining mess, I’ve been reflecting on the things that did help with life in the jungle, even though I practiced them imperfectly. And they might help you, too, if you're living in chaos right now:

  • Accept that things are unsettled, and that this is the way it is right now. No use pining for the good old days, or railing against the Universe. It is what it is. “This is the adventure I’m going on next” (thank you, Martha Beck).
  • Find one small area you can put in order and retreat there when it becomes too much. My bathroom remained basically unchanged, and I’ve taken many a relaxing bubble bath over the past months. Maybe your retreat involves listening to music in your car, sipping wine on the front porch, or retiring to bed an hour early in order to read a novel that takes you far, far away. There has to be someplace. Find it and make it yours.
  • Realize that this won’t last forever. Whatever the situation, it WILL change eventually, even if you don’t know how it will change. When our son needed to move home, I knew it would be temporary, and I tried not to be upset about losing the peace of our empty nest. 
  • Don’t let your own dreams completely disappear. Choose something small and doable on the way to a personal desire. And do it! Even so, through everything except quarantine when my husband had COVID-19, I’ve continued to see my horse Tank every day or two, even when we just hang out together. He reminds me that dreams DO come true. 
What are your favorite ways to cope when life gets chaotic?


Come Visit Our Backyard Oasis!

June 17, 2019

A few years ago, my husband became interested in gardening. Since then, he’s spent hours every weekend working/playing in our yard, turning it into an oasis. He plants mostly perennials, growing most things from cuttings neighbors have shared with him, or that he’s taken himself. Two winters ago, we had several hard freezes, and I wondered what that would do to the yard. As you will soon see, it came back better than ever.

Today, I thought I’d share some photos of his handiwork (click on the photo to enlarge it):

One of my favorite simple pleasures, when it’s not too hot, is to sit in one of our Adirondack chairs and watch the butterflies and birds. 

I also love to take pictures of the flowers.

Coral bush

Coral bush flower 

Angel wing begonia

This is just one small way my husband makes my life beautiful—and I’m grateful to him for it, and many other things.

Have a beautiful Monday!


One More Little Good-Bye

June 14, 2019

At the harness races--one of my favorite photos of us

Seven and a half months ago, my father died. This year, on Father’s Day, for the first time, I won’t have a father.

This feels strange. Something I have always had, and taken for granted, is missing. The months since his death have been filled with little goodbyes. Realizations that I won’t be able to share certain things with him, and vice versa. For example, when it was time to plant tomatoes this year, I decided not to—not only did I not feel up to battling the bugs and the squirrels for the fruit, gardening was something my dad and I liked to talk about—his tiny backyard plot produced tomatoes and cucumbers galore. We liked to compare harvests (he always had more) and compare what we had planted.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my dad. Coming to terms with losing a parent isn’t easy, even when you’re all grown up and have a child of your own. I decided to jot down some memories and thoughts about him in his honor this Father’s Day.

Even though my dad had his flaws (as we all do), he was a loving and kind man. My dad loved animals, especially cats. In addition to gardening, he was an excellent golfer, and loved fishing, and going to the horse races. He was in the Navy and served during the Korean War. He was a Baptist, and loved his church.

At his best, he was charming and charismatic, full of zest, humor, and mischief. He worked hard all his life—at 84, until his last illness, he still worked part time doing marketing for a Servpro franchise.

He was born and grew up in Virginia, moving to California as a young man looking for work.

He was extremely lucky, winning often at the horse races or casino, even finding money lying on the ground!

He loved his grandson, my son Nick, deeply. Dad smoked for many years, and after trying unsuccessfully to quit several times, stopped cold turkey when he saw his toddler grandson imitating him smoking.

Dad and Nick

I always asked him to make his special salad when I came to visit. I technically know how to make it myself, but it’s not the same. But perhaps I will try making it in his honor now and then, trying to perfect what he did so well.

The chef at work

My parents divorced when I was three, and I didn’t have much contact with my dad in my earliest years. The circumstances of my parents’ divorce were unusual, and without going into detail, let’s just say it was no one’s fault. I know it was devastating to him when my mom and I left, and I don’t think he ever quite got over it. It shadowed our relationship for years. Once I was old enough to stay with him, I spent part of summer vacation at his house, and either Christmas or Thanksgiving break. My stepmother had always wanted a daughter, and she embraced me as her own immediately. At the time of his death, they had been married 42 years.

At times, my dad and I hurt each other deeply in ways that only family can, each of us making mistakes, saying the wrong thing, convinced the other person was wrong or just did not understand. Now that I’m a parent, I better understand some of our exchanges. I regret that we didn’t have the lifelong closeness I’ve observed in other fathers and daughters. Over the years, I’ve grieved for what was denied us, but now grieve for what we did have that is now lost. Sometimes it hits me anew that he’s gone, taking me by painful surprise.

Now I can choose to remember the fun we had , letting go the old hurts. He did the best he knew how, and so did I, and sometimes we came up short. There was never any doubt that we loved each other, fiercely.

He always called me his favorite daughter (I’m his ONLY daughter), so last Father’s Day, I sent him a sweatshirt with the words, “My favorite daughter gave me this shirt” printed on the chest. He loved it, and since he was always cold (even when the thermostat said 85), he wore it proudly.

I have a voice mail on my phone—my dad’s last message to me from April 2018 when I was getting ready to come to California. He sounds excited about the upcoming visit. I can’t quite get my head around the fact that there will be no more visits, and that when I said good-bye to him last year, it was the final time I’d see him in person.

Last visit

We spoke on the phone many times after that, and I sent him a message on his 84th birthday, which he celebrated while I was in France last October. Only a few days after I returned home he was gone. I knew his health had been failing, but I thought we would have more time. I guess we all think that—or hope that—about the people we love.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I miss you.

Apple Hill

Field Trip Friday--California Dreamin'

October 20, 2017

Northern California was particularly photogenic this month. Instead of telling you about my trip, I’m going to share a few of my favorite photos. (Neither of my parents lives in an area threatened by wildfires—at least right now—though we could smell and see smoke some days.)

One of my favorite things to do when I visit my mom is to walk every morning on the land that I grew up visiting every summer. I snap photos of whatever flora and fauna I come across. (Alas, no horses next door this year.) How fallish it looked (click on photos to make them bigger):

The cows came over to see what I was up to:

Loved this mama and baby:

Nothing much has changed since I was a child. I still drag my mother to see horses. This time, we went to the Wild Horse Sanctuary in Shingletown. Interesting place. These are wild ones:

When I visit my dad and step mom, I also get to see my feline “sister”:

This year, we dropped in to see my step mom’s brother, who is the manager of Funderland, an amusement park that’s been open since 1946. He remembers going there when he was a child! The rides were adorable and I want to devote a page in my travel sketchbook to them: 

The day before I came home, we visited a couple of the farms that are part of Apple Hill. In addition to apples, cider, donuts, pies, and lots of other tasty treats, High Hill Farm, where this was taken, had a number of craft booths which were interesting to walk through. You can see the smoke in air in this photo:

 Rainbow Farm had pumpkins and gourds in addition to apples:

I hope you’ve enjoyed this sneak peek into my visit to California. I miss it already. Even though I’ve now lived in Florida longer than I lived in California, since I grew up there it will always feel like home.


Happy at Home

October 24, 2016

I came home from my trip to California to see my parents to find the weather here has turned fall-ish! Between that and the rejuvenation of my visit, I feel like a new person.

I indulged in some favorite simple pleasures, such as stopping at Granzella’s for a sandwich and a walk through their gift shop. I practiced yoga twice, and took several walks around my mom’s property, making the acquaintance of some cows and some horses.

How now brown cow?

The ladies next door

One of my favorite things is the way it smells out there. I breathed deeply as I explored the landscape of my childhood summers.

I bought books at Cal’s used bookstore (and had to have them shipped home since they wouldn’t fit in my suitcase). One afternoon, my aunt and cousin came for tea and a cutthroat game of dominoes.

At my dad’s I went shopping with my stepmom, filled up on my dad’s delicious salad, admired the changes they’d made to their home, and loved on their kitty.

Best. Salad. Ever.


I always become introspective on trips. Somehow the distance from my everyday life lends itself to pondering. This trip was no different. Two main themes developed: consciousness of mortality and gratitude.

I don’t think about dying often but on this trip I realized that continued life is not a guarantee. I’m blessed to have my parents still living, but they are both aging and have health problems (though they’re hanging in there and following doctors’ orders). I can’t help but worry about them and wish I could check in on them in person more frequently. Seeing their challenges makes me want to take better care of myself to give myself the best chance possible to have healthy senior years.

Also, to bring the mortality theme home, while I was in California, a good friend of mine from high school died from an aneurysm. He was just 52.

While I’m sobered, I’m also filled with gratitude. I love my life right now! Overall, things are going the way I want them to go. I have work, friends, family, and animals that I love. I was ready to come home when my trip was done instead of wanting to extend it for more days.

I’m all unpacked and the suitcase is put away. Because of the East Coast/West Coast time difference, I’m still having trouble going to sleep (and staying asleep), but that will pass. I’m back at my Monday morning exercise class today and will likely ride Tank tomorrow. I’m grateful. I’m lucky.

I’m happy at home.


Rest, Recharge, Refill

October 14, 2016

Guess where I am? I’m indulging in simple pleasures and everyday adventures in California while I visit my parents. Here, there’s no chorus of projects, laundry, or errands. Time for a break, to enjoy my family, escape the humidity and hurricanes, and recharge.  Time to hear myself think on the airplane and on the drive from the airport to my mom’s house. Time for reading and sketching, drinking tea and playing games. Heaven!

My posting schedule won’t be affected much. I’ve scheduled a poem for next Wednesday as usual, and I hope to be back here next Friday to share my adventures, but until then I’ll have limited email and computer access by choice. I need some recharging and well-refilling.

Whatever your week holds, I hope it’s a happy one!

Everyday adventures

Living With Men

August 05, 2016

You want an everyday adventure? I’ve got one for you: living with men.

Let me explain. I grew up in a home with a single mom. Though I visited my dad, I didn’t live with him. In college, I lived in single-sex dorms, and after I college I had one female roommate before getting married. Life in our house was feminine. Since I didn’t have anything different to compare it with, I thought this feminine way of living was “normal.” Living with my husband, and eventually our son, proved eye opening, to say the least.

Here are some areas I’ve found living with men different from living with women. (In case you are unclear, I’m about to make some major, tongue-in-cheek, generalizations. Your mileage may vary. In other words, please don’t send me letters.)

Men laugh at different things than women do, often involving bodily functions or slapstick-y pratfalls. Most women I know don’t find The Three Stooges all that funny, for example. Men’s humor tends to be insulting and directed at others. Women tend not to tease as much for fear of hurting someone’s feelings. We tend to prefer clever, witty jokes, puns, and stories—we like to use humor to connect with others. (Hey, I told you I was going to be making generalizations, didn’t I?)

Here’s a quiz for you: Which of these foods would typically be ordered by a man versus a woman at a restaurant? Wings or quiche? A double-decker cheeseburger or a large chopped salad? I’m not saying the woman wouldn’t want the cheeseburger or wings, just that she probably will not order either, especially if dining with someone else. What I cook for my masculine family is considerably different from what I cook for just myself, or for a female friend or relative with no guys around. Artichoke hearts and goat cheese never figure in meals I cook for my guys. Velveeta is not a crucial ingredient in hors d’oeuvres I serve my female friends.

Noise. When my son was still tiny, I bought the following saying, framed, somehow divining the truth about boys: “A boy is noise with dirt on it.” Most women I know go through life with the tread of a cat burglar, do not slam cupboard (or microwave or bedroom) doors, do not clang spoons and clatter plates on the counter. My husband is an exception (thank you, Dear), but I’ve found that once a man is awake in the morning, so is everyone else.

In a family composed primarily of men and boys, family outings tend to be activities you do (mountain biking, swimming, hiking, fishing), rather than passively observe (movies, window shopping). And you will likely never get your family of guys to partake of high tea, complete with scones and little crust-less sandwiches (see: Food).

Hiking in Yellowstone National Park

Which brings me to energy. The energy of men has a different feel to it—a combo of testosterone and Funyuns, perhaps? Women don’t have less energy (some have considerably more), but it has a different feel, sort of like an underground power source, always humming in the background.

Physical strength. While I pride myself on being strong—opening jars, lifting 50-pound bags of horse supplements—it’s nice to have someone who can do it for me, and do it easily. Just because I can do it doesn’t mean I always want to.

Tolerance for smells. ’Nuff said.

To this woman, men can be puzzling, exotic creatures, sometimes exasperating and insensitive. But they can also be wonderfully tender and loving, and hugs from my husband and son bring me pure joy. While I often feel more understood and accepted among my female family and friends, I value the different perspective my male relatives and friends bring to life. Living with men has made me a stronger, more balanced, more adventurous person. I wouldn’t trade this everyday adventure for all the scones in the world.

What differences have you found in living with the opposite sex?

My men


Grief Is the Price We Pay For Love*

October 30, 2015

 “Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”
—Anatole France

I have sad news to share today.  We lost our little dog, Scout, last Saturday, and we are deep in sorrow. She was 16 ½ years old. I apologize to those of you I know personally if I haven’t shared this news with you directly. It’s because I haven’t been able to face talking about it with you—I cry every time I have to share the news. 

The past six months have been difficult. Scout was deaf; almost blind from cataracts; suffered from terrible nasal allergies that made her sneeze, wheeze and cough; and she had “doggy dementia.” She rarely made it through a night without getting up to relieve herself, and afterward she often wandered through the house, getting stuck behind toilets, doors, and pieces of furniture. She occasionally got lost in the backyard she patrolled for so many years and had to be rescued. She required medicating several times a day and became agitated if her routine was disturbed. At the same time, she ate well, bounced around the house a little every day, and there was life in her eyes. We knew her days were numbered and tried hard to make them comfortable and happy. She deserved it.

Scout's the one licking his face
Scout came home with us as an eight-week-old puppy after “choosing” Nick (we’d intended to bring home a different puppy from the litter, but she followed him around and he fell in love with her). The two of them were best buddies from day one. Once she was house trained, she slept in his bed with him at night. They dug holes together and swam in the pool, and she joined in any game in which he was participating. She knew several tricks, including sit, shake hands, roll over and play dead—dropping onto her side if you pointed your index finger at her and said, “Bang!”—though sometimes you had to “shoot” her several times. She caught and killed plenty of squirrels and snakes, including more than one coral snake. (In a way, we were surprised she didn’t meet an untimely end since she was a typical Jack Russell Terrier—a tough little dog with a big dog’s attitude.) She received Christmas presents and birthday parties, just like the member of the family she was. The last few years of her life, she finally slowed down and preferred snoozing in her own dog bed to sleeping with a human, and spent more of her daylight hours sleeping than playing.

We are each coping in our own ways. The guys are able to leave the house to go to work every day, while I struggle with looking for her and not seeing her, with cleaning up her nose prints on the window, washing her dog bed, and disposing of all her supplements and medications. Yesterday I thought I heard her sneeze in the next room and realized it was just my imagination. I know that life will eventually feel beautiful again and that Scout’s memory won’t hurt anymore. Right now, though, thinking of her is equal parts love and pain.

Scout was a happy dog through her whole life, and she brought countless hours of happiness to our family. We were lucky to have each other, and we’ll never, ever forget her.

*Queen Elizabeth II


Baseball, Birthdays, and The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

September 04, 2015

Some weeks fly by faster than others. Some are more filled with simple pleasures and everyday adventures. I just experienced one of those weeks when my mom came to visit for a week. She lives in California, so we’re lucky to see each other once a year.

We started by anticipating the pleasure for several months leading up to her visit. Anticipation is a great simple pleasure, don’t you think? After we made airline reservations, I started making lists of things I wanted to do while she was here. Mostly what we wanted to do was talk and be together, so we didn’t plan activities for every day. We spontaneously chose to do what we felt like doing, whether that was taking a swim in the pool, shopping, or going out to lunch. I put aside my usual chores and activities so that I could sit and talk. And watch movies in the afternoon—decadence!

Some other highlights:

We had a family gathering so she could reconnect with my husband’s family who live locally. We used this get-together to celebrate two milestone birthdays: my son’s 21st and my father-in-law’s 80th. They share the same birthday!

We headed over to St. Petersburg for a Tampa Bay Rays baseball game. My mom loves to go as much as I do, and Nick joined us. The Rays have been having an up and down season, but they won the day we went—go Rays! (Maybe we should go more often?)

Entrance to Tropicana Field

Nathan Karns pitching

We all went to Cinebistro for dinner and a movie on my son’s actual 21st birthday (Cinebistro is a 21-and-older establishment), one of our favorite outings. (We saw The Man From U.N.C.L.E.—a fun movie we all enjoyed.)

Now Mom is safely home, and I will be playing catch up on household chores and writing tasks. I feel refreshed from slowing down and enjoying the moments we spent together. It’s September, so I’ll be thinking about how this year has gone, and what I still would like to accomplish in 2015. (After all, September is the New January.)  And trying not to think about how long it will be before I see my mom again.

Mom getting ready to go home. Isn't she cute?