Vodka and Ho-hos

Last week I attended a dementia care conference with Helen.

The conference was informative, but quite honestly, for me, the day was more about spending time with my daughter than about going to a conference. Helen is excited about pursuing something in nursing that supports caregivers and our aging population. Seeing her excited, passionate, and so engaged was worth the price of the conference.

At one point, one of the speakers mentioned going into the home of a person with dementia and looking in their refrigerator. The only things in it were vodka and Ho-Hos.

Helen leaned over to me and whispered, “That could be the title of a blog.”

“What?” I asked.

“You know, Vodka and Ho-Hos, like Hot Dogs and Marmalade,” she said.

I’ve gotten so used to Hot Dogs and Marmalade as my blog name that I don’t even think about it anymore. Probably new readers just think it’s a quirky name, or that I’m weird, or both. Both have some truth.

It’s more than a quirky name, though. It goes back to when my mother, in her dementia, was putting marmalade on everything. She would gaze lovingly at the jar of marmalade on the counter, placing her hand on it, like it was a long-lost friend. She put a layer of marmalade on casseroles, on leftover Chinese food, on ham sandwiches, and, yes, on hot dogs.

I tried to think what blog title I would choose now, as I care for my father. Here are two of my thoughts:

  • Jumbling the Jumble — His spelling has gotten more and more creative. When he does the Daily Jumble, he creates words that almost look like words which make them the hardest jumbles to unjumble. In the same way, his intellect makes his dementia much harder to recognize by people who don’t know him. He sounds so reasonable.
  • External Dialogue — His internal dialogue has become external. I’ll listen to him sitting on the sun porch. He’ll say, “I’m sitting here watching the birds. That one seems to like the food. I wonder what kind it is. It’s getting warm in here. Maybe I should change my shirt. Oh, look! Another bird.” It’s fascinating in some ways. I’ve asked him who he is talking to and he answers, “Myself!” as if that’s most natural thing in the world.

But I’ll stick with Hot Dogs and Marmalade — salty and sweet — like life.

(Also, I don’t like change.)

Trying to inspire myself to write more, I found this blogging challenge on I’ll give it a try for June.


E is for Eggs

Every Sunday morning I fix two over-easy eggs and a piece of toast for my father.  When I set the plate down in front of him, his eyes light up. “Oh! Eggs!” he exclaims, clearly delighted.

For the longest time, he had been eating his cereals on a rotation. I had to remember which he had eaten the day before and correctly serve something different. Frosted Mini Wheats. Honey Bunches of Oats. Real Medleys.

For a much longer time before that, my mother had prepared breakfasts based on a schedule. Eggs were served twice a week. Hot cereal once or twice a week. Waffles were Sunday fare. My sister knew the schedule. Honestly, I hadn’t recognized the consistency of it until she wrote it down.

But there it was — this routine that was all but carved in stone.

Until it wasn’t.

Because my mother was slipping.

It devolved into an orderly cereal rotation, something he could handle on his own.

When I introduced Sunday eggs as a way of making the Sabbath special, for him it became a weekly delight.

His delight is my delight.

Then there was the time when age-10-me called from 4-H camp to ask about bringing home some chickens. My father thought I said “a chicken” so he agreed.

I brought home nineteen cute little Polish chicks. Thirteen of them turned out to be roosters, most of which mysteriously disappeared one day when my parents sent me to the movies. We also has some delicious chicken soups after that.

That was the beginning of my father’s stint as a chicken farmer. He shopped Murray McMurray for unusual chickens, ordering more than once an assortment they called “the rarest of the rare.”

He really wanted some Araucanas – the chickens that lay green eggs. I think he eventually got some but they weren’t the greatest layers.

But to answer the age-old question — for my father, the egg clearly comes first.

A is for Army

My father served in the United States Army.

I don’t think he would ever begin the story of his life at this point, but this is an alphabetical telling, not chronological. Plus, I was born during the Army years, so I suppose it’s a good place for me to start.

The Army helped pay for his medical school. In return, he gave them 6 years active duty.

One posting was in Eritrea, which at the time, was part of Ethiopia. My earliest memories are from Kagnew Station, the army base there. Those little fragments of memories hardly seem real. I rode camels. I sifted sugar to help in the kitchen. We had chameleons.

My early memories rarely include my father though. I imagine he was kept quite busy with his work.

He moved his way up through the ranks. This is one of my favorite pictures of my mom and dad from one of his promotion ceremonies.

When he left active duty, he didn’t fully leave the Army. For many years he belonged to an army reserve unit — the 414th Civil Affairs Battalion out of Utica. While in the reserves, he continued to study and move up in ranks, eventually becoming a Colonel. He called it a “full bird Colonel.”

“What comes after that?” younger me asked him.

“General,” he said, and I was duly impressed.

When he had put in whatever time he needed for a full retirement, he did just that.

These days he likes sorting things — emptying banks and sorting the coins, sorting through papers and photos, sorting pins of various shapes and sizes that he has acquired over the years.

At dinner the other night, he said to Karl, “I have a lot of insignia pins. I found a dish that had a whole bunch of them. Maybe you’ll have some use for them.”

I looked at the assortment he had spread over his dresser. Sure enough, those full-bird eagles were thrown in some pennies and nickels, a lucky 4-leaf clover, and a few caduceus.

He had forgotten the hard work that went into earning them. I’m not even sure he knew their significance. He was ready to give them away to anyone who seemed interested.

My dad was in the army, but I think he has forgotten it.

I remember, though.

I remember him shining his army boots on the night before reserve duty, and the smell of the boot black.

I remember how different he looked in his fatigues.

Mostly I remember feeling kind of proud that my father served in the army.



Q: How many stories can I eke out of one bus trip?

A: This is the last one. I think.

When I began the trip, I was determined to have writer’s eyes and ears, paying attention to the details and scribbling them down. Once I reached my destination, that plan evaporated, like a puddle in the Texas sun.

Still, I now have this notebook full of notes. When I pulled it out this morning to help me recall the next leg of my journey, I realized that I had left out a little chapter about my bus ride.

Here is the story verbatim from my notes.


Aviary Photo_130723656517667067I’m dozing.

Dubai mom walks to the front of the bus.

“Anyone have a paper bag?”

Someone gives her one.

She goes back to her seat and hands the bag across the aisle.


Take-charge nurse-type across the aisle from me calls back questions.

“Does she have asthma?”


“Does she have an inhaler?”

No answer — vomiting.

“Does she have a pump?”


“I’m coming back…”

Thank you for these little heroes on a bus.

“I work in a hospital,” she said to me later, “used to work in the ER.”


As fair and lovely as Dubai mom was, ER nurse was dark and strong. She reminded me of Hattie McDaniel who played Mammy in Gone with the Wind. 

I was so thankful for both of them. Dubai mom (who turned out to be from Greene) was compassionate and caring enough to not ignore the distressed passenger across the aisle from her.  ER Nurse was exactly the kind of person to handle such a situation to a safe conclusion.

Another woman in my vicinity kept muttering that the driver is supposed to stop if someone is sick.  However, we were already an hour late, and he was hired to drive, not talk; I’m not sure that compassion was in his job description either.

A final note from my notes on this (“she” refers to Dubai mom)

“Quite a ride, wasn’t it?” she said, smiling.

Was she referring to the broken down bus or the vomiting woman?

Blogging from A to Z Challenge — my word for the day: Assistance