A while back, my friend and walking buddy, Jill, told me about volunteering at an Alzheimer private Residence here in San Jose. I listened as she started telling me about it but my interest reached its peak when she said she went there with her dog. You see, she is also the parent of a Golden Retriever and her Maggie and my Taylor are best buds. She asked if I would be interested in volunteering there and told me that if I were, she would get in touch with the administrator. I jumped at this opportunity and when after a few days she confirmed I could go, I was elated. I had no doubt Taylor would fit in beautifully because one of his qualities is his leaning habit. For the non dog owners among you, a leaner is a dog who will snuggle up to a stranger and lean into that person to be petted. Golden Retrievers are legendary leaners, love seeking dogs and caress opportunists. A good trait to have for this kind of activity especially when lots of people are wheelchair bound and the main goal is to make them feel somewhat better and sometimes, if you are lucky, make them smile. In order to protect every one's privacy I will not identify the residence nor any of the patients. For our intro visit, Jill was there with Maggie. She introduced us to everyone ...... too many names and faces to remember all at once, too much to take in, the emotion of it all, but certain traits and personalities stayed with me. In order to be admitted at that facility, a patient must have been diagnosed with Alzheimer, be it at its early stage or later. You notice right away that you and your dog are tools, instruments in a world that is beyond every day routine. You also leave your ego at the door. No one tells you those things, you figure them out for yourself. The first time I was there, one of the ladies hit me hard on the arm and told me to shut up. One of the nurses, knowing I was new at this, immediately made eye contact with me to gauge my reaction and noticing I wasn't thrown nor shocked, smiled and looked away. Taylor performed beautifully, going to each person and patiently letting each individual touch him and pet him. He also did a few tricks he knows to do when offered a treat. Things went so well, we were invited to return as often as we wanted. I was hooked ! Now, after having been there several times, mostly on my own with Taylor since my friend's and my schedule don't always match, there are things I have noticed, namely, expect the unexpected and leave yourself out of the equation. Some individuals can have perfectly normal conversations some day and the next time you visit not be interested in the same things, repeat some things none stop, temporarily forget your name or be in a foul mood. Another time, it hit be smack in the face ..... all of these people sitting in this dining room had all had a full life, were individuals filled with different interests, held jobs in different fields. I met some who rode horses, some who served in the service and were stationed in Europe, some who painted and drew and still do, some who taught school, some who spoke various languages and still do, some who had had dogs,lots of them did, etc. And now, this disease has reduced them to a fraction of their former self. Going there and volunteering weekly opens my eyes, makes me pay closer attention to people and hopefully makes me a better human being. Those people teach me something each time I go there with Taylor. This disease does not discriminate and it could very well be one of us in there.
Ironically, each time I wrap-up things to leave the residence, pick up Taylor's toys and water bowl and say my goodbyes to everyone promising to return the following week, a lovely lady, the same one each week, always says: Please don't forget us !
Summertime is almost here so please find a very refreshing recipe. Don't forget to read the notes.
Watermelon, tomato and cucumber salad
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
3 cups watermelon chunks
3 cups coarsely chopped heirloom tomatoes
3 cups coarsely chopped cucumbers
1 cup chopped basil
1/2 cup chopped red onion
3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
Notes: If you can find seedless watermelon, you will save some time and avoid frustration. Also, if you cut the melon the day before and refrigerate it before making the salad, it will add to that refreshing feeling. Use regular tomatoes if you can't find heirloom and if you are watching calories, use low Feta cheese.
Combine vinegar, salt, pepper and oil; whisk well. Gently toss remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Pour vinaigrette over salad and toss to coat. Serve immediately.