Monthly Archives: January 2010

Only Child Faces Alzheimer’s or Senior Moment?

The last few days I’ve been forgetful and scattered and I’m worried. Especially when I just read about a University of Toronto study on elderly authors (some dead, some alive) whose novels in their advanced years show if they had or have Alzheimer’s. P.D. James, still alive and writing prolifically at 89 has no dementia showing.  One of my favourite mystery authors when I was growing up and a young(er) adult, Agatha Christie, did.

So, when I lost a pendant, but not the chain, somewhere while out shopping and didn’t realize it until I went to remove it that night, “forgot” to buy a new shower curtain, “forgot” what  the original thing was for returning a call to a friend (she forgot, too),  plus a few other little things (which, horrors, I can’t remember now), I began to wonder: has the Big A finally entered my brain. Especially as I see I’ve use the word “thing” three times in this paragraph, one of the specifics noted in this Alzheimer’s study.

Some of my Strauss relatives on my mother’s side of the family had Alzheimer’s, my maternal grandmother, my godfather, my godmother. and a first cousin once removed (I hate that classification; sounds as if she’s been booted out of the family).  My mother, who died at 63, didn’t live long enough to be diagnosed with the Big A, but she showed a few signs. As I write in my memoir:

“What do you want for dinner tonight?” Mom asks me.” She’s been home from the hospital for a few months. “Steak ok?”

“Sure,” I reply.

“Okay. I’ll take the steak out of the freezer.”

Instead she takes out the bacon and I have the nerve to scold her about it. But I’m not all bad. I’m giving her part of my salary to pay for the food and with her help, I’m learning to plan menus and do a grocery list, based on the specials at the different grocery stores.

(Excerpted from You Can Go Home. Copyright 2010 Sharon Crawford.)

But what did I do this weekend but leave a dish of tuna on the kitchen counter beside the fridge while I went out for a few hours. Is my brain following my mom’s or is this just yet another “senior moment?” As for that U of T study, Ian Lancashire, an English professor, Graeme Hirst, a computational linguist, and graduate student Xuan Le, with knowledge from Dr. Regina Jokel, a researcher and language pathologist at Toronto’s Baycrest Hospital, used computer  software to study the cognitive functions of authors who wrote in their later years. They studied the earlier and later works of Iris Murdock, P.D. James and Agatha Christie. Before this study, it was known that Murdock had Alzheimer’s, but Agatha Christie? That was a revelation.

The writings of authors who have Alzheimer’s show a huge decrease in vocabulary and a huge increase in repetition, plus overuse of non-specifics such as “thing” and “something.”  You can check out more information on the study at

As for my forays into forgetfulness, I’m blaming it on too much going on in my life and only me to keep track, plus not enough sleep. And I’m calling it a few “senior moments.” At least that’s the thing I tell myself. The thing of it is, I’m going to check and re-check my writing several times using the Flesch thingy reading scale.

That should do it.



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Not so Only at Christmas and After

I spent Christmas Day alone this year and I don’t resent it. I didn’t have a hissy fit; didn’t do a “poor me, all alone” dance, and (do I dare say this?) I actually enjoyed it.

My son Martin  and his girlfriend Alison were in Costa Rica visiting her sister and her family who live there – so our Christmas dinner will be in January – late – even after the Ukrainian and Macedonian Christmas celebrations. When a friend asked me why I wasn’t having anybody over and cooking a big poultry roast dinner – she thought it was because I couldn’t afford it – I said “I can’t be bothered.” Really, I was glad to spend the time alone – I didn’t starve and I got phone calls from my son and his girlfriend, my friend from across the street, and from an old school friend. I chatted for close to an hour with each. And I played my Hayley Westenra and Sarah McLachlan Christmas CDs while opening my presents – even had it serendipitously timed to open the one from Martin and Alison when they called.

For dinner I did a roast – sort of – chicken drumsticks (I’m allergic to turkey), baked yam, scalloped potatoes, stewed rhubarb (from rhubarb I’d frozen from my garden in the summer – some of my mother’s traits live on), and vanilla ice cream…and lots of eggnog and chocolates.

Then there were all the get-togethers with friends before and after Christmas including some dinners out.

It’s a far cry from 10 years ago when I spent Christmas Day alone – my son was visiting his paternal grandmother and aunt, uncle and cousins in Vancouver. I was sick with a very bad flu and feeling alone – I even called my ex and wished him a Merry Christmas. But when I phoned one of my closest friends she just didn’t get it – she kept saying I should get on a bus and come over there for dinner and her husband would pick me up at the bus stop – she lives outside of Toronto. Newsflash dear friend – I was too sick to go beyond my front door.

I guess this Christmas was my variation of the warm close Christmases I spent with my late Mom and Dad. We managed to make our individual quirks work for memorable Christmases – and they weren’t always the same – sometimes we spent Christmas Day at home, just the three of us – sometimes we went to my dad’s sister’s for Christmas with her family. In my memoir which I’m writing (still – query off to an agent this month – New Year’s promise) I describe a composite of my family’s Christmas. Here’s just a little bit.

Between Christmas and New Year’s, every other year, the living room and dining room are filled with clinking glasses, low chatter, and the near-midnight snack served on the dining room table. Mom has whirled through her cleaning frenzy, vacuuming the two or three months’ collection of dust bunnies hiding under the furniture, and denuded the tabletop of its usual sewing paraphernalia.  Our good friends, The Armstrongs – George, Margaret and their spinster daughter, Eileen – from across the street, drop over to visit and mother lets me stay up late. I half listen to the drone and whisper (one year mother had laryngitis) while keeping one eye on the TV in the corner and the other eye (and stomach) focusing on the spread in the next room – delicate sandwiches filled with egg salad or salmon, minus the crusts now banished to the pop-up garbage can in the kitchen. When Mom finally gives the “come and eat,” signal, I stuff my pre-teen body with a midnight meal, while grabbing looks at The Bells of St. Mary’s. Warm room, congenial conversation, and the midnight feast lull me into a cocoon of false security.

Excerpted from You Can Go Home. Copyright 2009 Sharon Crawford. (And no, I’m not explaining that last line above. You’ll have to read the book when it comes out.)

I think I learned something this season. You don’t need your whole family descending on you for Christmas…and Boxing Day…and other days… and New Year’s Day to have a good Christmas. And if like me, your closest family is away for Christmas and your next-closest (read all my cousins) are in other cities and countries, you don’t need to sit alone and moan. Visit with your friends and spread it throughout the holiday. And on Christmas Day…don’t mope because you are alone. Christmas is what you make it. And so are the days, weeks and months after. A friend (who is also a writing  colleague) and I are getting together one evening later this week for a short walk and then a coffee and a catch-up talk.

Happy 2010.



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