This was originally written as a comment on Erin Kotecki Vest’s blog post about being chronically afflicted with lupus. Go read it. I’ll wait. It’s eye-opening.

Oh Erin…my heart aches.

I was the primary caregiver to my mom for the last 3 or 4 years of her life. She had chronic disease upon chronic disease. Some days I didn’t know how she could go on. Or how I could. It’s not fair. I learned THAT particular life lesson pretty well.

But she did go on. We got help. For instance, Mom going on antidepressants was one of the single best things that ever happened to my family. “Of course she’s depressed!” said the attending hospital doc. “She’s been very sick for a very long time.” Those pills allowed me and my kids to interact with Mom, not with her pain and suffering. She finally accepted the (pharmacological) help she never allowed herself when I was growing up. I think I would have been a very different person if she had. But that’s a whole different blog post!

On this journey, you find happiness and peace where you can. In the little things. Stopping at Mom’s favorite restaurants after doctors’ appointments. After the really tough ones, we ordered margaritas. It became Mom’s signature drink.

To life!

Erin, I admire your strength. Your courage. Your tenacity. Some days, it might not feel like enough. But it is.

We’re all just struggling along through this life the best we can. And I’ve found that life is INFINITELY better—for everyone involved—with the blessing of help. Don’t be afraid of asking for it. I am a better person for having helped Mom through the last years of her life, and I was infinitely blessed by all those (doctors, nurses, aides, neighbors, friends and family) who helped me help Mom. We’re designed to work together.

All the best to you and yours. You’re in our prayers…chronically. 🙂 And I mean that in the best way possible.

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Review: Rubbermaid Reveal Mop

Works for Me Wednesday

I’ve always really kinda hated mopping. Which meant that it hardly ever got done. I always seemed to be stuck with a nasty, germ-riddled  sponge mop. If it was the deluxe model, it had a scrubber pad on one side! I had to sweep first, then I had to pull out a bucket, or fill my kitchen sink with hot water and Pine-Sol. In other words, I had to clear my calendar for half a day to clean my floors “right.”

Then came microfiber, which cleaned great. I got the sponge mop topped with a layer of microfiber, but it began to peel off the sponge as soon as it touched the hot water. I went through mop heads like crazy!

I tried switching over to disposable mops, but the refills were a pain, and the solution got my floor—get this— TOO clean. I have stripes on the floor in one spot because the solution cut through ALL the layers of grime, but just in the one spot. Random.

Then I tried a steam mop, which worked wonders! Hot water (no nasty chemicals…yay!) and an amazing microfiber cloth. I was in love. What could go wrong? Just enough, apparently. After just a couple of months, the mop’s heating element conked out. No steam meant it was just a microfiber cloth on a stick. Pathetic.

Enter the Rubbermaid Reveal Mop. *Cue the choirs of angels*

Rubbermaid Reveal Mop

Go get one of these now!

It has the same basic design as the disposable mops, but boasts a machine washable, reusable microfiber pad, and a refillable bottle that you can fill with a solution of your choice. I use vinegar and water, which does a nice job on my vinyl floors, and is nontoxic to my kids and my pets. Most importantly, it is sturdy and well-built, like my other Rubbermaid products. I’ve used it for over six months without any problems, which I think is a record for my mops!

I usually TRY to sweep before I mop, but sometimes it just doesn’t happen. With the Reveal mop, it’s not a problem. Just use it to “sweep” the debris into a pile as you mop, and pick it up with a paper towel or Clorox wipe.

My kids love to use it, too! And with the vinegar solution, I don’t have to worry about the kids using it without close supervision, even if they do squirt the dog…by “accident.”

With the lovely flat, swiveling head, and lightweight design, it’s even easy to mop in small, crowded spaces…like my bathrooms.

If you want or need to use two or more different solutions, just buy a second bottle and you can use them interchangeably. The mop head velcroes on and off with the handy pull tab, and can be tossed in the laundry (line dry from the handy tab) without hardly touching it. (There’s also a dry dust mop head, but I don’t have it.)

Organize with Sandy did a review of this mop as well; her video is below:

I love this thing. In the time it would take me to find a clean, empty bucket in my house, I can have my floors shining. And for the record, I did not receive any compensation for this review. I’m just a very happy paying customer.

For more great ideas, check out Works for Me Wednesday at We Are THAT Family!

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Things I Love Thursday: Glee on Sesame Street

Gee…I couldn’t come up with anything I love more than Sesame Street paying homage to Glee.

For more great stuff, stop and see The Diaper Diaries for Things I Love Thursday.

Things I Love Thursday

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Wordless Wednesday: The Colburns Take a Vacation

The Colburn Family Goes Fishing

My mom, Connie Colburn Bruzek, is fourth from the left. For more wordless photos, go to Wordless Wednesday.

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Kennywood rant

Kennywood: Before the storm

Kennywood: Before the storm

I was at Kennywood yesterday.

Yesterday was they day that Kennywood closed at 5:45 pm due to the severe thunderstorm that went through (four people were killed in flash flooding). I have to say that I was NOT impressed with the way it was handled by the Kennywood staff. I only saw one staff member (she appeared to be a manager) alerting people that the park was closing, though they did make an announcement. I only saw two other staffers at the gate as thousands of people exited en masse.

The manager had told us tickets would be issued so that we could return another day. Very nice of them, I thought. Most major parks wouldn’t do that. We trudged all the way back to the gate and exited. No tickets offered. No one in sight. We doubled back and found someone who had found the tickets: they’d stood in a long line, and the tickets were only good the rest of the 2011 season. There was also a rumor circulating that you needed to produce your ticket stubs to get the return tickets. I had my two kids with me, we were tired and soaked to the skin, and our schedule wouldn’t allow us to return to Kennywood before the closed for the season, so we opted not to bother with the return tickets.

We trudged up to the parking lot at the top of the escalators (which were not running; I’ll give the benefit of the doubt and assume that they were shut off due to the electrical storm), where we waited in our cars for over an HOUR to get out of the parking lot. There was no one directing traffic. The only staffers I saw were getting in their cars and joining the traffic jam. I ended up escaping from the lot through an enter-only driveway that, had there been security directing traffic, SHOULD have been used as an exit lane.

Look, I am a patient person, and I understand that this was an unexpected weather emergency. But it seems to me that an organization as large as Kennywood should have an emergency evacuation plan that doesn’t involve sending their staff home before the paying park guests. There was more than one occasion where it seemed that the mass exodus could have turned into mass chaos, but I believe that the only reason it didn’t was because ‘Burghers are generally kind, patient people.


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The end of the end

On Tuesday morning, my sister and I put the girls on the school bus, then packed her suitcase and headed to Mom’s.

It was time to say goodbye.

She was headed to Florida for a business meeting. Duty calls, you know.

Life goes on, right?

We found Mom in the dining room, but she didn’t look like she belonged there. She looked pale, sunken. Still swollen. Her red-rimmed eyes lit up when she saw us, but she didn’t look quite right, somehow.

Not good.

She was visibly shaking, a new symptom I’d noted increasingly over the course of the weekend. One of her beloved aides was helping her drink some juice, hoping that would help. Maybe it was a blood sugar thing.

She was unable to eat on her own, but she did eat. I wondered if it was for our benefit.

After a few moments, she’d had enough. She looked tired of holding herself upright in the wheelchair. She seemed to be in pain. She wanted to go to bed.

Slowly, painfully so, the aide and nurse got her into bed. You could tell by looking at Mom how much it hurt.

“Ready for the big guns now, Mama?” I asked, referring to the strong painkillers hospice had promised.

“No,” she croaked, lying through her teeth (okay, dentures). The Vicodin she’d taken obviously wasn’t touching this kind of pain.

I shot a look across the bed at the nurse.

“We’ll get you something, Connie,” the nurse said briskly and cheerfully. She nodded at me.

They told me the morphine should work in about 5 minutes.

The nurse and aide bustled off. My sister and I sat on Mom’s bed. I looked at the clock. It was a full 30 minutes after we had planned to leave for the airport.

We said we had to go. We said we loved her. My sister said she’d be back next month.

Next month?!?

We gave her permission to die.

We told her how she’d been a great mom. Taught us everything we know.

We told her we knew it hurt, and that she didn’t have to fight anymore. Not for us.

The morphine was working. Her eyes closed, but she smiled as we whispered sweet things in her ears and smoothed her hair.

We got up, collected our things. There were planes to catch.

Tears flowed.

As we left the room, I looked back at her, and shot her the “I love you” sign in sign language. “I’ll be back soon, Mama.”

My brain captured the snapshot: She sat up, eyes open now though it was clearly an effort, smiling at us as we left the room.

Dear Patient Reader, I’ll spare you the details, but she declined rapidly the rest of the day. The hospice nurse stopped in and was surprised to see how quickly she’d slid since the previous visit five days earlier. She got morphine first every three hours, then two, then hourly.

I returned at 2:00 pm. I didn’t quite know what to do with myself. I held her hand for a while, but it was too swollen; I was afraid I’d hurt her. My job seemed to be to call the nurse for more morphine when she became restless.

At 11 pm, I started to leave. She’d been sleeping fairly soundly, and everyone encouraged me to go home and get some sleep. But she began to stir. I wasn’t going to sneak out on her, so I told her my plan. She tried to speak…but I couldn’t understand. The morphine had slurred her speech too much. I didn’t know what she was trying to tell me to to do.

“Okay, Mama…it’s okay. I’ll stay. I’m staying.”

By 3:00 am, I’d had…enough. It was too hard to watch her struggle. She hadn’t been anywhere close to conscious since 11 pm. I’d been told she could go on like this for days. Maybe even weeks.

The nurse promised to call me when there was any change. I needed to leave.

I climbed into bed when I got home, but sleep did not come easily.

Big Sis woke me at 5:45 am. She was having tummy troubles and shivering violently. Just like a couple of weeks ago when she’d had the nightmare about Grandma dying.

She climbed into bed with me. I was grateful to have a life-sized baby doll to snuggle with. I embraced her shivering form, and we drifted off to sleep.

The phone rang just before 7:00 am. It was the night nurse. Mom had just passed away. The two aides had been rounding together before the shift change, and she waited for them to check on her. She died while they were in the room.

RIP Connie C. Bruzek 1938-2011
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The beginning of the end

As I write this, it’s late. Mom would tell me to go to bed.

My sister came in for a visit over the weekend. Mom was waiting for her.

We had a great weekend. My sister spent all day Saturday with Mom.

On Sunday, we did an early Easter celebration. My sister found one of my mom’s old recipes for an egg casserole, so she made that with a lovely fruit salad and asparagus. Mom colored Easter eggs with the girls.

Afterwards, she was very tired, and got right into bed.

Monday, we stopped over to see Mom before lunch. We figured she’d head down to the dining room, but no such luck. She wasn’t feeling up to it.

So my sister and I told her that we’d go run an errand, and come right back. I’d been dragging my feet on making funeral arrangements, but bolstered by each other’s presence, we vowed to do it together.

Less than an hour later, we were back. We told Mom that everything was taken care of for the funeral. She was tired, but alert. We passed the afternoon paying Mom’s bills and changing her address, all while laughing and talking.

We left Mom to get the kids off the school bus, and took them to shop for dresses. My sister recently got engaged, and we were sorely in need of a girls’ night out.

Surprisingly, my sister found the perfect dress, and bought it on the spot. The girls tried on dress after dress, arguing over color and style. Missing Mom like crazy, we stopped at Mad Mex for dinner, and ordered margaritas.

We couldn’t even finish the “Little Butt” size. It wasn’t right, without Mom.

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I love you, Chiquita.

To life!

RIP Constance C. Bruzek, aka “Chiquita”


You are truly loved and missed.

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Assisted living and hospice

What a difference a month makes.

So, as of my last post,  Mom was diagnosed with a blood clot (we found out several weeks later that it was actually TWO clots). She stayed in the hospital for another ten days. During the course of that stay, the doctors let us know that Mom really shouldn’t be there. She should have been at home, on hospice.

So…she got discharged. I was hoping to get her into an assisted living unit by the time she was discharged, but no such luck. She came home to her old apartment for about four days, then she signed up for hospice, fell that afternoon (no injuries), and moved into her assisted living apartment the next day.

It was quite a whirlwind.

I was very thoroughly blessed by my friends that week. I sent out an email on Wednesday explaining that I needed help packing and moving Mom by Friday. Somehow, I got help…just enough, and just at the right times! Two neighbors came over Wednesday evening; one was an RN who helped sort Mom’s meds. Thursday I got help from two more Girl Scout leader friends; they packed Mom’s kitchen. Friday, the day of the move, I got help from friends who I met through Mr. Hoagie’s work.

I can’t tell you how grateful I am to God for sending everyone!!

And Mom got into assisted living not a MOMENT too soon. She really needs every bit of extra help. She stays in bed most of the time, except for meals, because she is so swollen (due to the blood clots and possibly because the lung cancer tumor is putting pressure on her blood vessels). She’s also on oxygen.

It’s been pretty smooth sailing ever since. I’m taking my time with all the paperwork and change-of-address stuff. I get over there 3-4 times a week. It’s so good not to have to worry myself sick that she’s on the floor just because she hasn’t answered her phone.

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Right to the Jugular!

So…an eventful couple of days. Forgive me, but I’m blogging from my iPod in the ER.

On Thursday, my mom’s cardiologist makes local headlines for putting in unnecessary stents.

Mom is offered a spot in assisted living.

She falls twice…within one hour, due to dropping blood sugar (which may be cancer-related).

When I see her that evening, I notice that her face and arms are swollen.

The next morning, Mom decides we should see the doc. When I arrive, she’s so alarmingly swollen that she looks like the blueberry kid from Willie Wonka.

So I take her to the ER. After hours on end, they find a blood clot in her jugular vein. They start heparin, and antibiotics for a UTI.

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