My Dad and Dementia

(c) OccasionalBlog.net

This month my Dad turns 80, we’re really looking forward to driving to the Southwest to visit them for his birthday weekend. The other side of this is having to have a chat with Big M. Having to explain that Grandpa might act strangely sometimes and get a little confused.

We all suffer with memory loss as we get older but for some, it’s a little more serious than that.  For my Dad it’s slowly been creeping up on him over the past five years or so. We’re still waiting for an official diagnosis but all signs point towards Dementia. 

And now things seem to be deteriorating more rapidly.

Early Signs

At first he would be aware that his memory wasn’t the best, as we all get older I think we can relate to this. When he met with friends or acquaintances he would often start the conversation “You’ll have to excuse me if I don’t remember you too well, my memory is crap nowadays”. It was all a bit lighthearted to begin with but then it started to affect his moods.

He would get really angry with himself if he forgot the simplest thing, like a pint of milk he’d asked to pick up as he was passing the corner shop. I think he was scared that he would end up like his own mother who suffered with Dementia and passed away not recognising any of her children who would often visit her.

To begin with my Mum also found it frustrating, they would visit places they’d been to before and he would say how he’d never been there.  Mum would tell him, exasperatedly, that they had. My parents like going on cruises. After their 4th or 5th cruise holiday, Dad told me what a fantastic holiday it was, he’d never been on a cruise before. He would meet acquaintances who would greet him warmly and he’d have no idea of who they were.

Acceptance

Gradually they started to accept that this was becoming the new normal and Mum would devise ways to help him deal with it. They began to keep photo diaries of their holidays so she could show Dad the places they’d been and remind him of what happened.

Dad has also slowly accepted his failing memory and tries to not get angry about forgetting things. However this has also been helped by the antidepressants that are now part of his daily pill intake. My sister, who is a doctor and lives close to them, has been a great help and support (to my mum in particular). Providing sound advice and making sure when they go to their memory consultations that they know what’s happening.

However he has his good days and bad days. He still gets very confused, for example he recently tried to use a shop’s loyalty card instead of his debit card in a shop. He was convinced it was his debit card and got very agitated when Mum tried to explain that it wasn’t.

How do I feel?

I’ve found it hard. As you can see from the picture at the beginning of this post, me and my Dad are (were) keen cyclists. He got me interested in bikes and cycle racing when I was still a teenager. We enjoyed a number of cycling holidays together to Mallorca. Of course, he doesn’t really remember them. I’m beginning to feel I’ve lost the Dad I used to ride with around those stunning mountain roads.

We live near London, a three and half hour (minimum) drive from them. It is so difficult as you get older and you realise that your parents are beginning to increasingly need your support. This is made doubly difficult when you have a young family who equally require 100% of your attention. What makes it worse is knowing that his condition is only going to deteriorate.

What next?

Well we need an official diagnosis that he is suffering with Dementia. Only then will they be able to access much needed help and support.

We’ll be making sure we go and visit as often as we can. I want my girls to spend as much time as they can with their Grandpa which will hopefully help him as well.

Useful Links

DementiaUK

Alzheimer’s Research UK

Alzheimer’s Society

NHS

Mental Health Foundation

 

 

 

Time to make a major career change – teaching

I recently wrote about our plans to relocate to New Zealand. You can see my post about it here.

Things seems to have gathered pace now. It’s funny how just one little moment sparks something in your mind and from that an idea snowballs! Well for me it happened last week.

We’ve been doing the rounds of local school open days recently. Big M starts reception next September so we have to submit our school applications by this coming January. We’ve been really impressed with each school we’ve visited which makes the decision really hard. But I digress.

In each classroom we visited the children seem so lively and engaged. We’ve taken along little m on a couple of these visits. In one reception class in particular, a lovely little girl commented on how nice little m was. It wasn’t that in particular but all these interactions with the children sparked something in me. I thought to myself “you know, I’d quite like to spend my time working in this environment”.

(c) Telegraph.co.uk

So over the weekend I mentioned this to my wife and she was super enthusiastic about it. Over the weekend we discussed it at length and now I’m settled on this being my big career change! I’m really excited about the idea. The thought of going back to work in finance and accountancy did not appeal at all!

This has also crystallized our plans for relocating to NZ. Before, neither of us had an idea of what we would do to earn a living out there. My wife works in the banking industry in the city and is ready to step down from being the breadwinner. Now that I have decided on teaching, that is something I can easily do in NZ and also support the family while doing so.

What happens next. I’ve already started researching post-grad teacher training courses, I’ve registered with UCAS. I just need to work out what area I want to go into. My first thought is Primary but I keep being recommended Secondary. There’s quite a bit of research to do, fortunately there appears to be a lot of helpful advice out there….watch this space.

Have any of you gone through a major career change, I’d love to hear your thoughts.


	

Moving to New Zealand

As regular readers will know, my wife is a kiwi and since we had the children we’ve tried to visit NZ every year. We want them to know and enjoy visiting their family over there.

I was going to write a piece on what we did on our travels over there but have decided to share with you our current thoughts on a much bigger life changing decision.

Holiday blues

After every trip over there we always get a touch of the holiday blues which is particularly hard for my wife as NZ is her home. Ever since we first met she has talked about moving back and I’ve always readily entertained that idea. Now we have children the question of emigrating is becoming more and more important.

When to go?

We need to think about when, the eldest of the nephews and nieces over there is 16. We’d want to go soon so the girls can enjoy spending time with their cousins before they themselves spread their wings and leave the nest. Also, as Galla is now three years old, she will be starting school in 2019 so we’d need to think about timing around her schooling.

Whereabouts?

Oamaru

My wife comes from Oamaru in the South Island, for a provincial NZ town it’s actually pretty cool. It must be, because Lonely Planet said so. Since I met my wife, I’ve visited four times now. I actually stopped there when I was backpacking through NZ in 2004. Little did I know I’d end up getting married there!

Each time we visit I say to my wife “you know, I could live here”. Which is always a surprise to her because, being local, she can remember growing up just wanting to leave. She never thought she’d consider coming back to settle there with a family.

Pros –

  • Family close by,
  • familiarity,
  • friendly locals (like most places in NZ),
  • good schools,
  • lots of outdoor activities to enjoy close by.

Cons –

  • Work; my wife works in banking and my background is finance, there’s not much call for that locally. We’d have to think outside the box. Do something completely different, run a cafe or B&B for example? That will take time to organise and will involve a steep learning curve.

Auckland

Auckland, NZ’s largest city. It’s a lovely city to visit, lots to do and see, some excellent dining and drinking as well.

(c) aucklandtourism.co.nz

Pros –

  • big city amenities in not such a big city,
  • friends close by,
  • Work, Auckland’s economy is booming and it would be one of the easiest places in NZ for my wife and I to find work in our sectors.

Cons –

  • It’s a city; why move to the other side of the world to live in another city?
  • Furthest from family, they would be a plane trip away,
  • Expensive to buy property and like most of NZ, cost of living is high.

Somewhere new?

Somewhere completely different in NZ. It’s a stunning country and there are some truly spectacular places to live.

Pros –

  • We could live somewhere neither of us have been before and really start family life anew

Cons –

  • That’s a bit scary quite frankly!

What happens now?

Are you still here? Thanks for reading this far and letting me download my thoughts on this complicated decision process.

My challenge now is to start putting together a plan on what needs to happen when in order to get us to the other side of the world. I will write more blog posts as I work along this process. Do we sell up here? Do we go with work in familiar areas or do we try something completely different?

Watch this space. If you have any thoughts or tips on moving your family to a different country, I’d love to hear them.

(c) OccasionalBlog.net

Tea Bags and your compost heap.

The research for this post comes from gardening.which.co.uk

Up until recently I had been happily putting all our tea bags on the compost heap. That was until I read an article in the Which? Gardening magazine.

Plastic waste

Plastic pollution is definitely a hot topic these days. I was surprised to read that by composting our tea bags I was inadvertently adding plastic to our heap.  The majority of tea bags use polypropylene to strengthen and seal the bags. This isn’t biodegradable. Considering there are billions of tea bags sold across the UK annually, that’s a lot of plastic being leaked into the earth.

Not all contain plastic

So which brands don’t contain plastic;

What do I do in the meantime? Or I don’t want to change my brand

WRAP maintains that composting or disposing of your teabags in the food recycling bin is still the best way to deal with them. We still have a catering pack of our previous brand of bags so I’ve moved to putting them into the food recycling.

What are you doing to help combat plastic pollution? let me know.

Cooking for kids

Image result for dad cooking

Dad in the kitchen!

It’s still one of the most daunting tasks I find with looking after the girls – cooking for them! We’re fortunate as both the girls are good little eaters (thanks to my amazing wife and all the hard work she put in weaning them) so I don’t often have to deal with any unreasonable toddler/threenager food demands. I put pressure on myself to create different dishes for them to try when all they really want is pasta or chips….or preferably, pasta AND chips.

Fortunately I’m not a bad cook but tend to stick to a few tried and tested classics; my chicken risotto is always a big hit as is my pasta with beef ragu sauce, but I do like to stick to a recipe and don’t feel that comfortable going off piste and being creative with food. My wife on the other hand is a fab cook and likes nothing better than creating something from scratch and playing fast and loose with any recipes. During her maternity leave I had an easy time of it in the kitchen I can tell you…but I digress.

A long time ago….

Way back when I was at work and we had just Big M, we had a nanny, she kept a food diary for us. So I looked at that for inspiration. My wife ensured the nanny try to cook at least one new dish a week while maintaining Big M’s favourites; pasta, fish pie, pasta, risotto, pasta etc. I checked some of the recipe books we had and decided one day to try to make fish cakes from scratch. Fortunately we live in an area where there are excellent butchers and also a great fishmonger. No supermarket vac-packed fish for my little darling, oh no, straight to the fishmonger for the freshest bounty from our shores.

Back home and an afternoon (yes a whole afternoon) spent meticulously preparing and molding four exquisite fish cakes for her….you’re way ahead of me aren’t you…all the while trying to keep half an eye on her as she plays in the playroom and trying to meet various demands for books to be read and mega bloks to be played with. Dinner was finally ready and of course “I want pasta”…..tears and tantrums followed…Big M looked at me bemused as I picked myself off the floor. Fortunately she did eat all her greens and did try a little bit of fish cake.

Don’t sweat it

That incident made me think and realise that at weekends for example, she eats perfectly well with us, so why can’t I just cook what I would for myself or what I know she likes and take it from there. Over a number of weeks I relaxed more into the routine of catering for her. Nowadays I’m putting less pressure on myself, after all why do that when you have the bigger task of looking after two little girls and running the house as well. Having said that as my wife has returned to work this week there is the added pressure of cooking for us as well, fortunately she’s very easy to please as long as it’s not beans on toast. (p.s. baked beans, always a hit with the little ones!)

Here a couple of my tried and tested favourites that are a hit with my girls, toddler and wife alike and still use decent quality ingredients.

Pizza Wraps

Tortilla wraps (we use the good quality seeded ones)

Tomato paste

Cream cheese

Half an onion (red or brown)

Couple of mushrooms

Tomatoes

Ham

Cheese (lots of it)

Take a wrap, smear on some tomato paste mixed with cream cheese, thinly slice some onion and mushroom and scatter over the wrap. Rip up the ham and sprinkle over, slice up a tomato or two then add generous amounts of cheese.

Grill under a medium grill until the cheese has melted. Easy as.

Omelettes

Ok I’m not going to give you a recipe on how to make an omelette but I will add that the girls love it when I fry up some chopped onion, mushrooms, broccoli, courgette and peas in olive oil before adding the eggs. Finished under the grill with lots of cheese on top. It’s a real hit.

 

I still think beans on toast should be a staple though….don’t tell the wife….

Easy to construct raised beds

This summer we had an extended visit from my wife’s parents all the way from NZ. As always I’ve loved having them stay (yes I do mean that). For a start, my father-in-law is a very keen gardener and he has spent almost everyday of their stay in the garden, weeding, planting, maintaining and building. He’s even built a wooden play house for the girls (more on this in another post). My mother-in-law has been a super useful “extra pair of hands”, either taking the kids off my hands or just doing all the little jobs around the place that you don’t realise take up a lot of time.

Raised Beds

This has meant that I’ve had a chance to get into the garden and attack a project that my wife has been keen for me to do for a long while now. Raised beds, turning this:

Into this:

Materials

I did a lot of research online and noticed that you can buy raised beds “kits” from a number of suppliers however these can be quite expensive. So I decided to go my own way. Some kits use garden sleepers, but again these are a bit pricey and difficult to work with. I decided to go with decking boards. They are used for people to walk all over, why not use them to build a raised bed? I measured the space of our veggie patch and worked out how many 2.4m boards and fence posts I needed to make three beds.

Three 2.4m x 1m raised beds require the following items:

18 of 28mm x 140mm x 2.4m pine decking boards

5 of 75mm x 75mm x2.4m timber fence posts

Assorted screws and/or galvanised nails (we already had these in the shed so didn’t buy any more).

I ordered mine from Wickes and the cost came to £135, which came to half of the cost of a “kit”. Not bad really.

 

 

 

Construction

I cut each fence post into three, laid these out and attached two full length decking boards to the posts. Note that I also left space for another decking board at the top. Therefore in the future if I want to raise the bed any further (old age or bad back for example) I can just attach another board all round and fill with soil.

Digging a groove in the soil with deeper holes for the posts I put one side in then attached two decking boards cut to 1m length to make an end. Then add another side and attach two further 1m boards to complete the bed. I left a gap of 45cm between the beds so in the future I can add 45cm square paving slabs. And so on until I had 3 beds constructed. It took me a few days (with many interruptions for children) to complete but I reckon you could do this in a day without interruption.

Treated or untreated?

Most articles you read on building raised beds discuss whether or not you should use treated wood. It is recommended where you are growing vegetables for consumption to not use treated wood. However the caveat is that treated wood is made to be in contact with the ground and therefore lasts longer. I got over this conundrum by lining the beds with polyethylene. I also used old compost bags to line the beds. If you are unsure which type of plastic to use then I found the following article very useful.

Filling

I was very pleased to be able to finally use our own compost we’ve been adding to over the past year or so. This provided a good base layer in the beds then we finished off with numerous bags of general purpose compost from the garden centre.

Irrigation

Now I hadn’t thought much on this but my father-in-law suggested that it was a good idea to irrigate each bed individually and I have to agree. It’s a better use of water and selfishly, I actually really enjoyed the “engineering” of cutting all the hoses and connecting them all up. We used black hose that is made specifically for the purpose of supplying a micro spray system. It’s easy to make holes in to attach various micro nozzles. Our system is made by Gardena, we did end up spending a bit of money getting it right but I think it was definitely worth it.

And Finally

I’m not an expert DIYer or garden constructor but I found this little project immensely satisfying and simple. My wife is very happy that we can now grow veggies that will at least stand a chance of growing properly without being eaten by pests.

Have you completed similar projects, let me know how you got on.

Tinnitus and me

(c) Houseofhearing.co.uk

I suffer from tinnitus and have done, on and off for about 25 years.

What is Tinnitus

The perception of ringing in your ears. It is a fairly common condition affecting about 1 in 10 people in the UK. For some it can be so overwhelming that it affects their quality of life, they find it hard to sleep or concentrate for example. For others, like myself, it is an annoyance that you learn to live with but really wish you didn’t have to. I find it quite distressing that I can never truly enjoy quiet, I always have a ringing in my ears.

It is not a condition in itself but a symptom of an underlying condition such as age-related hearing loss or ear injury.

Tinnitus and me

I think my first memories of it came around the time I was university. I’d go to gigs and find my ears ringing for days afterwards. Since then it is something I have always been aware of but have just got on with. When my children arrived it became a bit more of an issue. I found that my daughter’s cry was at the same frequency as the ringing in my ears. This meant when she was upset and crying hard I actually found it painful to listen to.

Earlier last year I decided to try to investigate it further as it was causing me such discomfort. I went to my local GP and managed to get a referral to a specialist. I had hearing tests and a follow-up discussion with the specialist. As you get older you lose hearing at higher frequencies, this is normal. But for me as these nerves die off it creates “noise” which is interpreted by my brain as ringing. So  the problem is exacerbated as I get older.

What can you do

Nothing unfortunately, well, there is no cure for it. Tinnitus can impact your quality of life and cause problems such as:

  • Fatigue
  • Stress
  • Sleep problems
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Depression

You can already see if you’re a new parent, these are complications that you definitely don’t need. If you’re able to treat these conditions then while it won’t make your tinnitus go away, it will hopefully make you feel better.

What I was told is that as there is no cure for tinnitus you can find ways of managing the condition. Try and reduce stress factors, attempt to get a good nights sleep, turn down the volume and get some exercise for example. If it is something that does bother you then there are support groups out there that can help. I’ll add some links below.

And for me?

Well as my eldest has got older she understands that Daddy sometimes has sore ears so she needs to be a little bit more quiet. This usually has the desired effect, though during her terrible twos she did once or twice scream at me deliberately. But hey, that’s toddlers for you!

Useful Links

British Tinnitus Association

NHS

Take on Tinnitus