PROTECTING THOSE WITH ALZHEIMER’S

alzheimer patient

As I’ve mentioned on this blog, I co-authored a book for Alzheimer caregivers. I learned so much about the burden each caregiver carries. I wanted to include an essay that might be helpful to those whom I have come to admire for the difficult road they travel. If you are a caregiver, or know someone who is, I hope this information proves helpful.

October signals the arrival of the busiest time of year for many of us. It’s a short hop from Halloween to Thanksgiving. Then the head-long rush into the holiday season begins.

For Alzheimer caregivers, this time of year requires extra vigilance. Since many caregivers don’t have the luxury of another safe place for their loved one, it is often necessary to take them shopping.

busy mall

If your shopping plans include taking an Alzheimer’s patient to a crowded shopping center or mall, you can minimize the chance of becoming separated from him or her. A few suggestions:

      • Make sure he or she is wearing a belt, even if the outfit doesn’t call for one. A belt is a handy, quick way to grab hold of a person about to wander away.
    • Call ahead to learn where the shopping center’s security office is. Look for and remember the location of all mall exits, elevators and escalators.
  • Be aware that Alzheimer sufferers have heightened senses. Malls are noisy places normally, but for someone with Alzheimer’s, an announcement over a public address system, either in a store or in the mall itself, can startle that person. That voice could potentially frighten them and they may wander away from the perceived noise.

Wandering is a serious problem for those with Alzheimer’s. The Alzheimer’s Association has a program called Medic Alert + Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return. For information about this program, go online to http://www.alz.org/care/dementia-medic-alert-safe-return.asp#works or call: 1.888.572.8566. The program has successfully aided in the search for wanderers who have strayed from home.

Even in your own home, wandering is always a possibility. Here are a few simple ways to reduce the risk of losing track of wandering patients before they get beyond their own neighborhood. I know these suggestions sound like common sense, but for many caregivers, this is their first experience in a strange and difficult new world.

If someone with Alzheimer’s lives with you:

    • Make sure all your neighbors know that an Alzheimer’s patient lives in your home. If that person is seen off your property, the neighbors will know to alert you or the police immediately.
    • Give your neighbors your telephone number, especially if it is unlisted.
    • Keep a current photo of your afflicted family member available. If possible, make a video of him or her for police.
  • Keep an unwashed item of clothing that belongs to the person on hand. Police dogs may be able to locate a missing person from the scent left on clothing.

As always, constant vigilance plays a major role in Alzheimer’s caregiving. But don’t forget: Help is close by. The Alzheimer’s Association stands ready to assist all those who ask.

A suggestion for those who would like to help a caregiver in some way. If you turn around this simple sentence: “Let me know if I can help you” to “What can I do for you?” the caregiver may be more likely to suggest a specific way you can be of help.
________________________________________

The Alzheimer’s Association offers a wealth of information online. If you don’t have the time or are unfamiliar with Internet use, ask a family member or friend to do some research for you. Remember: libraries have free use of computers.

Here are a few links:

http://alz.org/we_can_help_we_can_help.asp

https://www.alzconnected.org/

http://www.alz.org/care/overview.asp

(Image of Cognitive Intelligence courtesy of ddpavumba@freedigitalphotos.net)

(Photo of people in motion courtesy of Naypong@freedigitalphotos.net)

FREELANCE WRITING – A ROLLER COASTER RIDE

roller coaster ride

I thought I’d get personal with this essay. I know many freelance writers are out there hanging on tightly to that roller coaster ride. The ups are incredible. Seeing your published byline is a real high. However, the downs, in the form of rejection, give you that same sinking feeling the roller coaster delivers on the downward trajectory.

I’ve been on this rocky ride for 35 years now. I’ve had great, satisfying success and crushing disappointment. Sometimes, I’ve experienced both with the same project.

A case in point: My first book: ALZHEIMER SOLUTIONS: A Personal Guide for Caregivers.Alz. Book Cover

I co-authored the book with Jim Knittweis. Jim’s father had succumbed to Alzheimer’s. After his father’s passing, Jim wanted to find a way to help others that were in his position as a caregiver. He combined his knowledge of psychology and gerontology with his personal experience to conduct ten years of research. He asked if I’d be willing to help him turn that mountain of research into a caregiver’s guide. The result was a book we wrote in an easy-to-follow, Q & A form. We were both proud of what we had accomplished.

After a year of write, write, write, followed by edit, edit, edit, we began the treacherous search for a publisher willing to take a chance on first-time authors (despite the fact that I had many years of published work and Jim had the academic credentials). We finally found one! It was a one-person, small publishing house willing to take a chance on our manuscript and turn it into an actual book!

The first time I held a copy of the book in my hands was magical. Yes, it was like that first glimpse of your baby after waiting so long for its arrival.

The publisher did her best to market the book with a limited budget. Jim and I did most of that work ourselves. Fortunately, I had public relations experience. We received glowing reviews from newspapers, magazines, and medical journals, but we never received the widespread publicity needed to push real book sales to the very people in need of such a book.

ALZHEIMER SOLUTIONS was published in 2002. After a few years, we began having difficulty with our publisher. Her strategies didn’t always make sense to us. Something was wrong, but we didn’t know what that was yet.

Life is full of irony – and not always in a good way. We learned that our publisher had developed Alzheimer’s! Her publishing house would be closing down. We were crushed.

We requested the rights back to our book, which were graciously granted. The book is still listed on Amazon and is available through a group of independent book sellers. However, Jim and I receive no royalties on those sales. But we are glad that the book is still available to those who need it.

It would be easy to sulk about that experience, but I don’t. Many positive things came out of my time as a non-fiction author. Most importantly, I learned that I could write a book, especially one that was entirely outside my personal realm of experience.

Also, I conquered my fear of public speaking. I returned to my college alma mater to address a class of nursing students. That felt great! Jim and I were invited as guest speakers at an Alzheimer conference on Cape Cod, which was exciting for us. We met many wonderful caregivers at our Meet the Author gatherings. They were so anxious to have a guide for what is a monumental task, and they were eager to talk with Jim about his own time as a primary caregiver. I gained tremendous respect for Alzheimer caregivers.

An unexpected gift from that experience is that I published a story in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Happiness, titled “Never Say Never.” That has become my philosophy for the writing life.

So, if you are a freelance writer, jump on that roller coaster. It’s worth the bumpy ride!

Fun Facts About Writing: (Source: http://www.yellowwallpaperwriters.com/ways-writers-write/)

John Steinbeck (1902-1968) wrote with a lead pencil.  He went through as many as 60 a day.  The edges of hexagonal pencils hurt his fingers, so he used round ones.

While Margaret Drabble (1939 to present) was writing “The Needle’s Eye” she didn’t buy any new clothes because she didn’t feel her character, Rose, would buy any.  “I was incredibly shabby by the end of the book,” she said.

Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966) burned his first unpublished novel, “The Temple at Thatch,” after a friend said he did not like it. He also tried to drown himself, but returned to shore when stung by jellyfish.

(photo of Roller Coaster Ride courtesy of foto76@freedigitalphotos.net)

SHABBY CHIC – I DON’T GET IT

wooden shuttersBeauty is in the eye of the beholder…

I know. I know. To each his or her own. I am from that generation wanting everything shiny and new. Of course, we didn’t always get what we wanted. Setting up house as newlyweds back in the ’60s usually meant gladly accepting the family’s hand-me-downs. So, I am surprised by the shabby chic phenomenon.

I wrote this story more than a dozen years ago. Shabby chic has survived! I still don’t get it…

(This story appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer in 2002)

Tired of new being old. The latest goal in home decor leaves a lot to be desired.
By Judy Harch

Shabby chic. I just don’t get it. Why would you take a brand-new piece of furniture or pottery and turn it into something you would ordinarily walk past at a garage sale? This latest rage in home decor must be part of the generation gap.

I was born just as World War II was winding down and the American postwar economy was heating up. Returning servicemen and women were staking out their chunk of the American dream. Upward mobility was in. Many young newlyweds had a house full of shabby hand-me-down furniture that they would have labeled anything but chic.

After my father returned from the war, my parents worked hard for the opportunity to decorate our home in upholstered furniture covered with crisp, new, wrinkle-free fabrics.

The current rumpled look of cotton, ruffled slipcovers, and chenille “throws” tossed over furniture for that casual, lived-in appearance is the very style my parents’ generation tried to escape.

The 1950s brought the often impossible standard of a well-scrubbed, everything-in-its-place, squeaky-clean home. When guests came calling, every pillow was fluffed, and every piece of furniture was smoothed to a state of perfection that would pass military muster.

And heaven help anyone who would toss a blanket of any sort over the arm of a chair.

When my generation married, the old stuff was cleaned out of attics and garages and given to the newlyweds.

When my husband and I set up housekeeping, our first lovely living-room suite consisted of my in-laws’ redwood patio furniture. Talk about the rustic look. Donated old wooden pieces of furniture were stripped bare and given a fresh coat of paint or stained and varnished to make them appear new.

So excuse me, Martha Stewart, if I don’t quite understand the chipped-paint look. I’ve watched Martha and many other mavens of shabby chic commit atrocities against new tables, chairs and bedroom bureaus. They add bumps and bruises to the wood with chisels, chains, and other instruments of torture. Then they apply some kind of crazy gunk that gives the appearance of crackled and chipped paint. The result – an item that looks like a refuge from Grandma’s attic.

I appreciate the beauty of a gently aged heirloom of cherished furniture. But that’s just not the same as a coffee table that has a knocked-around, banged-up look about it.

And don’t even get me started on verdigris. That’s the so-called lovely green patina that takes over anything copper as it ages. Personally, I like my copper to look copper-colored. To my generation, verdigris was what you got when you didn’t polish the copper bottoms of Revere Ware. As Martha would say, it was not a good thing.

It never ceases to amaze me that shabby-chic queens will spend hours glopping up terra-cotta pottery with endless chemical solutions to encourage that aged, green look to new planters. I live in a heavily wooded area, and my neighbors and I call that mildew. We’ve got it all over everything in our yards and the north sides of our homes.

While we’re battling the green slime with bottles of bleach, those seeking the comfy cottage look are paying extra for it.

I guess it’s as true about home furnishings as it is about clothing design. If you hold on to something long enough, it will be back in style.

***

heart and candles

I am a “live and let live” person. If shabby chic sets your heart afire, here are a few websites you might like:

http://decozilla.com/2014/02/interesting-facts-about-shabby-chic-country-kitchen-design/

http://www.things-to-make-and-do.co.uk/other-stuff/how-to-shabby-chic-furniture/how-to-shabby-chic-furniture.html

http://www.interior-design-it-yourself.com/shabby-chic-decorating.html

(photo of Wooden Window Shutter with Heart Shape courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography @freedigitalphotos.net)

(photo of Heart and Candle Stock Photo by dan @freedigitalphotos.net)

A FISH TALE

fish market

Have you ever stood at the seafood counter and wondered about that piece of fish you’re about to buy? Ever think about where he was swimming, or how long he lived before he ended up here?

No? Neither have I. Except – for the time my husband brought home the big one he’d caught at the seashore. That big guy became part of our family’s folklore.

(This story appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer in 2004)

Writing the last chapter in a bass’ long biography
A thrilling catch is almost – almost – too good to eat.

By Judy Harch

Before me sat a culinary masterpiece.

The star of the show was a grilled-to-perfection striped bass steak. Fish doesn’t taste any finer than when it has been plucked fresh from the salty waters of the Shore and immediately prepared for consumption.

After relishing every bite, I washed it down with a major dose of guilt.

My husband, Chris, and a fishing buddy had arrived home brimming with excitement after a good day’s catch off the beaches of Ocean City. As they pulled into our driveway, the rumble of thunder gave way to cracks of lightning.

But they were on a mission. They lugged their prized catch, a 41-inch monster of a bass, to the backyard and with surgical precision performed the work of experienced butchers.

Well, sort of. The standard knife was not working on this baby. With a sense of urgency, they resorted to a hacksaw, as Mother Nature announced her ever-louder proclamation from the skies concerning who is really in charge.

As I anticipated a delicious meal, my delight became tainted. Chris excitedly explained that his big, fat fish had been quite an adventure. As he reeled in his catch, he had noticed something sticking out of the bass’ belly. It was a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service tracking tag.

While he inspected it, a crowd of children on a school day trip gathered around the fascinating find. One little boy asked to please have his picture taken with the fish and the guy who caught it. (Ah, your 15 minutes of fame. You never know when it will happen.)

Before placing the fish steaks on the hot coals of the grill, Chris decided to call the phone number on the tag to report his find.

The woman at the Wildlife Service asked my husband a litany of questions about where he had caught the fish, its length, girth and weight. She thanked him for the call and told him that he had won the reward of a hat or fish pin. He chose the hat. She promised to send him a report of the fish’s “tracking history.”

When Chris related the conversation to me, I began to feel a personal connection to the fish. It’s so much easier to eat an anonymous animal. But this bass had a history in which we had become a chapter. My husband was responsible for the fish’s final fight with his perpetual nemesis, the angler.

In my husband’s defense, I must tell you that he is basically a catch-and-release fisherman. But in late spring, when striped bass migrate into the Delaware Bay and the Atlantic surf, he always brings home a few. We eat them relatively guilt-free.

This big boy, unlike the others, had an identity. He was destined to become part of our family’s oral history, to be recounted to all those who listen to fish tales. When the bass’ personal history arrives from the Wildlife Service, the story can be further embellished.

Of course, on that stormy day, as the fish lay before us on our plates, it was a done deal. It would have been a travesty to not eat him after he had given up his life.

I can tell you, though, the next time Chris dons his new U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hat, he won’t be keeping any fish that arrives at the end of a hook sporting a pink tag.

Guilt has a bitter aftertaste.

***

(P.S. My husband wouldn’t ordinarily keep a tagged fish, but this one was bleeding badly because it most likely had been previously tangled in a commercial fishing net.)

fisherman at sunrise

UPDATE: My husband still gets up at dawn, packs up his gear, and heads for his favorite fishing spots. He’s never brought home another tagged fish – thank goodness!

(Image of Fish Market Stock Photo courtesy of franky242 at freedigitalphotos.net)

(Image of Silhouette of Man Fishing Stock Photo courtesy of nuttakit at freedigitalphotos.net)

TIME-TRAVELING GRANDMOTHER

bobby rydell

Today’s zealous Taylor Swift fans have nothing over the teenagers of my generation. Way back then, we were crazy for those South Philly crooners – Frankie Avalon, Fabian, and Bobby Rydell.

I was 15 years old when I went to a local dance hall and saw Bobby Rydell perform live. You don’t forget moments like that.

When Chicken Soup for the Soul was asking for stories about grandmothers’ experiences, I flashed back to that special night. Time has a way of warping memories. As I sat at my grandson’s 8th grade graduation, imagine how I felt when Bobby Rydell, himself, sat in the pew right in front of me! I was instantly fifteen again.

The moment was incredibly poignant as I realized my “little” grandson was old enough to feel the same emotions I had. Wasn’t it just yesterday that I rocked him in my arms?

Here is the story I had published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grandmothers in 2011.

TIME-TRAVELING GRANDMOTHER

By Judy Harch

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.
~ Marcel Proust ~

The band of earnest 8th graders decked out in royal blue cap and gowns gathered in the vestibule at St. Mary’s church. The pews quickly filled to capacity as the organist played and church officials took their places. It was graduation day for our grandson, Joey.

Although engulfed in a sea of blue, I immediately spotted him looking impossibly grown up at 15. A grandparent’s vision may get fuzzy with age, but somehow we always manage to scope out that one special child at a group event. Through misty eyes, I tugged on my husband Chris’s arm and said, “Look at him. He’s so handsome.”

Our eldest grandchild seemed to be moving through each new life passage at warp-speed. I’ve always suspected that we unconsciously measure time against our age. The older we become, the faster the wings of time beat.

Chris smiled in agreement, and then said, “Now, don’t forget. You promised to behave.”

I knew exactly what he was talking about and it wasn’t our grandson.

Chris was worried about Bobby Rydell. More precisely, he was worried about my reaction to Bobby Rydell. The very same heart throb from the late 1950s was parked on the pew directly in front of me. I’d heard through the grapevine that his grandchild was also graduating that day. Be still my heart, I thought.

“I’ll try. I really will,” I answered. “But it’s a tall order, you know.”

He knew. Chris and I grew up together in a small town in southern New Jersey. As Bobby Rydell’s career moved skyward, he made appearances at local venues in our area. I was fifteen when I saw him in person. I remember standing by the small stage with a throng of overzealous girlfriends screaming Bobby’s name as he snapped his fingers, wiggled his hips, and belted out “Kissin’ Time.” We were all deeply, madly in love with the skinny South Philly kid with a massive pompadour and wide smile. It was a mob scene at the edge of the stage. I hadn’t a prayer of capturing his attention.

So, there I sat many years later, within shoulder-tapping distance, staring at the back of Bobby Rydell’s head. Sure, he looked older. The pompadour was gone. But I saw that mischievous trademark smile as he turned sideways. What to do? I was dying to talk to him. How many times in life does the opportunity for a do-over come along? He was literally a captive audience.

Chris, a quiet, reserved man in public, glared at me. He didn’t have to say a word. After many years of marriage, I could read his mind. I didn’t like what it was saying.

The processional began. A reverent hush fell over the gathered families. Everyone stood to honor the class of graduating students. They made their way down the center aisle to a lightshow of camera flashes. I saw my Joey walking sure and proud. I instantly turned back into a woman of a certain age in awe of her grandchild. But every time I looked at Bobby, I traveled backward through a time tunnel.

As I sat through the formalities, intently listening for my grandson’s name to be honored, I had an epiphany. I suppose I will forever think of my grandchildren as just that – children. But the rush of teenage angst that overwhelmed me at the sight of my teen idol, took me back to fifteen. I suddenly remembered with great clarity how intense each emotion feels at that age. And here before me stood my 15-year-old grandson, the one I stubbornly still viewed as a sweet, blue-eyed baby boy.

I silently made a promise to myself that day. I would remember to respect the feelings of each grandchild as they became a person reaching toward adulthood while making their way through the rough passage of the teen years.

If we’re lucky, the crazy mix of part child and part grown-up defining those years remains in us, giving us permission to act silly now and again. Hmmm…After all the pomp and circumstance had ended, Bobby Rydell was still sitting in front of me.

Chris looked at me. “You’re not?” he said.

Seize the moment, resounded in my head. “Yeah…I am.”

I caught the eye of Bobby’s daughter-in-law, who was seated next to him, and whispered, “Is it okay?”

She smiled and nodded, obviously having been through this situation before. That’s all I needed. She whispered something in Bobby’s ear and he turned around, looking me right in the eye. Zap – fifteen again! I said something inane about seeing him forever ago at a dance hall in South Jersey. He smiled knowingly and wistfully said, “Oh yes, that was a very long time ago, wasn’t it.”

I wonder if he was having his own epiphany that day.

UPDATE: My adorable “little” grandson is now a college graduate embarking on Stage Two of life. Me – I still remember fifteen as if it were yesterday!

(photo of Adoring Fans with Singer by photostock courtesy at freedigitalphotos.net)

“NOTHING TO FEAR BUT FEAR ITSELF”

panic switch

If Only It Were That Easy!

I wrote commentary essays for The Philadelphia Inquirer for almost 10 years. It amazes me to reread my old stories and realize that many of them are timeless. In this case, the world’s woes have not changed – just morphed into bigger woes.

If you are a news junkie, you know what I mean. With the 24/7 news cycle on an endless number of television stations, fear thrives. I know this story sounds like it’s told by a “Debbie Downer,” but it is told partly as the true state of affairs – and partly tongue-in-cheek (the food part – we have to eat something!).

(A version of this story appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer in November 2002)

Easy to feel hamstrung by headlines these days
Violence in the Middle East. Carjackings. Local burglaries. Listeria. What can a news junkie do to get away from it all?

By Judy Harch

I think I need a time-out.

As an admitted news junkie, I may have overdosed lately. Fear has wrapped itself around me like a boa constrictor, threatening to suck the very breath of life out of me. Every trip out my front door now requires a few moments of thought. Do I really need to run this errand? I could be risking my life.

We got about five minutes of peace from the horrific sniper attacks before the news media began reporting stepped-up terrorist activity around the world. Americans have long since lost their belief that their homeland is safe from the daily battlegrounds of the Middle East. Terror now resides right outside the door in the form of chronic fear.

Recently, the media reported two carjackings in my area’s supermarket parking lots. Fortunately, the crimes ended with no physical injuries to the cars’ owners. But the venomous fear of what could have happened lingers long after. It forces questions into our minds, questions without simple answers.

After learning of those carjackings, I found myself worrying that I do not own an ATM card or carry credit cards in my wallet. I fear that I could anger a carjacker. What if he didn’t believe me? What if he thought I was holding out on him? Should I change my lifestyle just in case my car gets hijacked?

I had been living under the illusion that no one would want my grandma-looking Buick. That was until recently, when a friend reported that her jalopy of a van was stolen from a local shopping center. It was recovered in another town. Apparently the thief just wanted the van to transport himself to where he could “trade up.”

Fear has crept into my community. We are feeling the growing pains of rising crime. Burglars apparently think we are easy pickings. They’re not slipping into our homes in the dead of night. Brazen daytime break-ins are occurring. A few years ago, our neighbor’s home was broken into at 5 in the afternoon. She was terrified to think that one of her children was normally home at that time. But on that day, the house was unoccupied.

That incident was enough to drive many residents of my street to install burglar alarms in their homes. Even the term home invasion, which is used by the news media, strikes terror in my heart.

What to do? For many of us, comfort comes from food. Ha. There’s another can of worms. Fear begins early each morning. As I reach for that cup of coffee, I wonder how much damage I’m doing to my body as I supercharge it with a 12-ounce mug of caffeine. There’s always decaf. But I’ve heard the health reports. Experts aren’t so sure that the chemical process to strip away caffeine is entirely safe, either.

If I reach for the phone to commiserate with a friend on this sorry state of affairs, do I use cellular? There are studies about brain cancer from cell-phone use.

As my day winds down, the big decision about what’s for dinner awaits. Beef? Hmmm… mad cow disease. Chicken? Forget it. Don’t want to risk listeria. Well, there’s always vegetarian. Eggs? Don’t forget about salmonella. OK, how about good ol’ fresh vegetables? Oh, wait a minute. What about E. coli?

These days, I even gaze suspiciously at my glass of water. We draw our water from a well. Can’t help but wonder: Is a chemical cocktail invisibly swimming around in there?

Franklin Roosevelt said, “There is nothing to fear but fear itself.” Yeah, well, I wonder how he’d feel fighting the fear factor in the age of 24-hour news coverage.

UPDATE: There is a cure for this addiction – turn off the news! But I probably won’t do that…

scared lady watching TV

(Image of Relax-Panic Switch courtesy of Stuart Miles at freedigitalphotos.net)

(Photo of Scared Lady While Watching TV courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at freedigitalphotos.net)

TRENCH WARFARE – The Little Menace in the Garden

country garden

The annual battle begins anew each summer. It’s us against marauding underground country critters looking for munchables – in our garden! Where we see a tender new plant filled with promise, the local critters see lunch.

My story of the annual battle of the backyard was published by Chicken Soup for the Soul: Home Sweet Home in May 2014.

Trench Warfare
From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Home Sweet Home
By Judy Harch

“There is no gardening without humility…”
~Alfred Austin

Our children were grown and on their own. My husband Chris and I had finally realized a long-awaited dream and moved to a cottage in the country. Now we could wake up each morning and look forward to watching an occasional deer meander through the yard, spot squirrels scrambling up trees with their acorns, and observe the social order of birds at the feeder. Blue jays first, unless a bully of a redheaded woodpecker lurks on a tall tree trunk nearby.

Life in our new home would have been grand if it hadn’t been for those unseen critters waging war with this pair of country newbies. My love and respect for the animal kingdom was about to be sorely tested. For those of us who feel a kinship with animals, occasionally there comes a time when an earth-shattering upheaval, so to speak, separates theory from practice.

During that first summer in our new domicile, my mettle was tested by a platoon of voles. They are the insidious little critters that hide in the dark netherworld of our yards. They stealthily slide along their well-crafted underground tunnels, munching on tender plant roots they view as a well-stocked salad bar.

They’re probably held in high regard among their animal friends since they believe in sharing the wealth. Voles act as company commanders forging the way for other tunnelers, like chipmunks and field mice. Our back yard had become one big garden party down there at our expense.

Ferreting out this destructive militia became our summertime obsession. We had called upon our animal-friendly arsenal of weapons but were failing to reclaim our territory.

Over breakfast one morning, I’d said to my husband, “I’ve been getting neighborly advice about ways to send those critters packing.”

Chris was immediately interested, if somewhat reluctant to look like a country bumpkin, when I suggested theory number one — human hair as repellent.

Undaunted, I continued, “The next time you go to the barber shop ask for a bag of hair.” I related the theory that the voles would be scared off by the scent of big, bad Homo sapiens.

Reluctantly, Chris marched off to the barber shop, collected several large paper bags of hair, spread it around the garden, wet it down, and waited for the motley crew to turn tail and head for the hills. It didn’t work. The voles must have had a good laugh at that over lunch.

It was time for theory number two. Someone suggested rolling up several sticks of chewing gum and shoving them down the vole hole. Allegedly, the voles would get a fat wad of gum in their jaws making it impossible for them to munch on plant life — at least for a while. Hah! The Juicy Fruit turned out to be nothing more than a pre-lunch appetizer.

Theory number three: the high-tech approach. A sympathetic friend bought us a sonic tube that you insert into the ground. It is battery-operated by a small fortune’s worth of D-sized batteries. This theory purports that the underground tremors created by the sonic tube would drive the voles and their party animal friends away. Mission unaccomplished.

Then the nasty little critters began taunting us. Yes, they really did. One day, Chris was in the back vegetable garden with our yellow Labrador Retriever, Savannah, who was on a leash. He watched in utter disbelief as a budding pepper plant was pulled underground right before his eyes. He was quite sure those criminal masterminds knew he wouldn’t let go of the leash long enough to save his new sprout.

We stopped relating that episode to our friends when they began comparing us to Bill Murray’s character in the movie Caddyshack.

The war took an ugly turn about midsummer. By then, at least half our prize hostas were chewed off at their base. Our lush borders of variegated greens along pathways and around thick tree trunks looked barren. Little did we know that the final defeat in our battle was imminent.

We had received a beautiful, young Japanese red maple tree as a gift. It was both sentimental and valuable. Its feathery, deep red leaves graced a small garden by our front porch. One day I saw Chris holding what was left of the tree in his hands. It literally had been chewed off at the base. He cradled the poor, dead tree in his arms, took it out back, and laid it to rest. I could see the crushed spirit written on his face. Then he got mad.

“We’ll fix those nasty little creatures,” Chris said through gritted teeth. He called our local Cooperative Extension Service. One of their master gardeners mailed us a brochure full of tips for getting rid of voles.

When the brochure arrived, our hearts sank. Short of using pesticides (which we preferred not to do), we’d already tried every recommended remedy. After having lost each skirmish in our battle of wills, we surrendered. The underground army had been triumphant. It was time for compromise.

These days, every plant we hope to harvest lives in containers, above ground. Peace reigns. The salad bar crowd has moved to a new neighborhood.

illus. wagon

UPDATE: The white flag of surrender remains flying. We continue to plant our hostas in containers. We’ve given up on raising a vegetable garden. Those country critters have driven us to local farm markets. Sooner or later, we all learn which battles to concede.

(photo of plant courtesy of amenic181 at freedigitalphotos.net)

(illustration of wagon courtesy of debspoons at freedigitalphotos.net)