Put it on an iPod and Plug in!

jj on motorcycle

Noted neurologist, Oliver Sacks, once said that, “Music evokes emotion, and emotion can bring with it memory… it brings back the feeling of life when nothing else can.”

Recently, opera singer turned neuroscientist, Linda Maguire, researched using music for those with failing cognition. “Musical aptitude and music appreciation are two of the last remaining abilities in patients with Alzheimer’s. They can’t follow life or conversations. They don’t remember people. They get lost and confused. But because the part of the brain that internalizes music remains healthy, they can follow music.” 

Maguire’s study revealed 5 important benefits of music:

  1. Music evokes emotions that bring memories.
  2. Music is a way to reach beyond the disease and reach the person.
  3. Music can bring emotional and physical closeness. With dementia, patients often lost the ability to express emotions.  Through music, if they are ambulatory, they can even dance. Dancing can lead to hugs, kisses and touching, which brings security and memories.
  4. Singing engages both mind and body. It gives you better posture, better oxygenation and stimulates tissue because the heart and lungs literally vibrate.
  5. Music can shift mood, manage stress and stimulate positive interactions. 

Maguire’s study says that three of the most therapeutic songs are: “The Sound of Music,” “When You Wish Upon a Star,” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” It also suggests that if you are caring for an elderly person, to compile a playlist of songs that were popular when they were 18-25 years old. Put it on an iPod and plug them in!!

On that note, I leave you with, “I Wanna Die Young,” a song I wrote inspired by my grandmother. That is she pictured above on the back of a Harley in her 70’s. She is the same girl that still sang “Happy Birthday” to me at age 93, long after she had forgotten who I was.  






When I first started driving, Granny cautioned me NOT to pick up hitchhikers.  “You just never know,” she warned.  I disobeyed her, but only once.  That day, I was feeling pretty independent behind the wheel of my stick-shift, Chevy Nova, clunker when I saw a guy with his thumb out on the highway. 

No dummy me:  I checked him out top to bottom first, before I stopped.  He was clean, handsome in a rough sort of way and looked very fit.  Seemed harmless.  So, I pulled over.  He gave me a big, wide grin, and said, “Hey, Thanks for stopping.  I’m just going about two miles straight down.  I sure appreciate this.  It’s hot out here.”  Had manners, too. 

As he squeezed himself into the front seat I realized that he was MUCH bigger up close.  He was also staring at me, hard.  So, I did what I normally do when I’m nervous:  made conversation.  “Your boots are really cool,” I enthused.  “Thanks,” he smiled.  “Where’d you get them?” I continued.  “Um.  I made ’em actually,” he said.  “No way!” I blathered.  “Yeah.  It took me a long time to do this part,” he indicated, raising his jeans to show even more detailing higher up.  “I worked on ’em while I was in prison.  Actually, I just got out a few hours ago.” 

The oxygen suddenly went from the car.  ‘No wonder he’s so strong,’ I thought to myself, ‘It’s all those sit-ups in his cell.’  Fortunately, his stop was just ahead.   “Well, here you are,” I said in a breezy,  extra-loud voice, pulling over about five times faster to let him out than I had to pick him up.

That incident crossed my mind today when I picked up another hitchhiker; an elderly redhead.  She was standing umbrella-less in the pouring rain.  “Where are you going?” I yelled through the downpour.  But she didn’t pause to answer because she was already arranging her five foot self into my front seat.  As she snapped on the seat belt she turned to me and said, “Do you have any idea where Verizon is?” 

During our ride, I learned that she was 85, had a daughter,  moved here recently from New York and loved to read.   “I was just too impatient to wait for the bus today,” she confided as I pulled up to Verizon, “so thanks for picking me up!”   You’re welcome, Alma.  Anytime.

Helen Hudson is the author of, “Kissing Tomatoes,” now available on Amazon.



Everywhere you go nowadays you see ‘kids’ taking care of their elderly parents.  That wasn’t the case when I wrote, “Kissing Tomatoes,” 10 years ago.  At the time, publishers said, “Love the writing but no one will buy it.  Who cares about Alzheimer’s?”  Well, time changes everything. 

Just today, the woman in front of me at the pharmacy counter was waiting for her mother to write a check.  Dowager-humped and small, her shaky hand extended from a wrinkled, arthritic arm.  The wait for all of us was almost interminable.

Every few seconds, the daughter looked around nervously, then straightened her shoulders as if to keep herself from getting the hump her mother has.  She was so embarrassed holding up our line that I made small talk.

“Well, looks like you get to do all the shopping while Mom pays the bills.” 

She brightened slightly.  “Yes, we’ve always loved shopping together.  Just takes longer now.”

“No worries,” I replied.  “We’ll be there ourselves one day.” 

An hour later I dashed back to the same store for something I had forgotten.  The man ahead of me was turning his pockets inside out for change and holding a single bottle of water.

“I just need twelve more cents, right?” he asked in a nervous voice.  He was sweating and his face so flushed, that I feared he might be having a heart attack.

“Goodness,” I said to the clerk, “I’ll pay for his water.”     

“Oh no.  Can’t let you do that,” the man said.  “I have it here somewhere.”  He began searching his back pockets.  “I’m taking care of my mom,” he suddenly blurted.  “Never thought it would be this hard.  She’s driving me crazy.”

“How wonderful,” I replied.  “After all of those years she raised you, now you are caring for her.”

“Yeah, but the only problem is I can’t spank HER!” he laughed.

His car was parked next to mine.  As he jumped behind the wheel, I waved at the old gal next to him.  “Mom!” he yelled, “This lady just paid for my water.”  “How nice,” she said.  “And how nice that your son is looking after you,” I added.  “Oh, not for long,” she confided.  “The doctor said this thing I have will be over very soon.”  I glanced at the man.  He shook his head.  Yeah, time changes everything—especially us.


Picture this:  me backstroking in the middle of my half mile swim.  Have the lane all to myself and starting to pick up speed, which at my age is relative.  Thinking how I can’t wait until it’s over.  Then. . .smash.  Suddenly, I collide with my friend, Forest, who in his Alzheimer’s state of bliss has no clue what has just happened.  He has plunked himself into my lane without so much as a second thought or look.

“Oh,” he says with a gurgle.  “There you are.  I haven’t seen you in a while.”  Now this length of conversation is the longest we have had yet.  And, the most lucid.  Every day his caregiver sits on a bench at the end and waits as he wades back and forth in his flowered swim trunks and duck-like pool shoes.  He doesn’t swim exactly, rather plods from one end to the other with a laissez-faire stroll that would make a Persian cat jealous.

“Well, Hi, Forest,” I smile.   “It’s not a good day for climbing trees,” he confides.  “You’re right,” I reply.  “That’s why it’s a good thing we’re in the pool.”  Now I have to figure out my next move.  The lane next to us is open but if I move over it might hurt his feelings.  So, I continue.  Each time we get close, I pause until he passes and go on.

Just as I start my last lap, we reach the end at the same time.  “Hey, Forest,” I suddenly chide, “Wanna chase me?”  “Oh, Yes!” he says.  And with great anticipation on his face, Forest begins to ‘chase’ me.  I do the backstroke as he pursues.  His flowered trunks balloon around his hips like small sails.  I can tell he has picked up his pace, but no one watching would see a difference.  I don’t let him catch me, of course.  Just watch this grown man trying to come after me with all the glee of a young boy in pursuit of a rabbit; in this case, a ‘gray hare.’

I am already halfway up the steps to leave as he arrives.  “That was fun!” I say.  “Yes,” he smiles.  “And you are looking GOOD!”  “Well, so are you,” I reply.  At that moment, a rather large, buxom blonde steps down into his lane.  As I turn to leave, I hear him say, “I haven’t seen you in a while. . .”  (Helen Hudson is the author of, “Kissing Tomatoes,” a nonfiction memoir of the 13 years she and her husband cared for her grandmother with Alzheimer’s.  http://www.helen-hudson.com)



Well, it’s been a whole week since 2011 lurched into view.  The gym is already less crowded.  For the record, I cannot ever remember making a New Year’s Resolution.  As a kid I must have watched too many grownups make—and not keep–them.  I have always tried to make daily ones; the kind that I could actually keep.  You know, like, ‘I will NOT eat one of those Hershey Kisses sitting in that bowl today!’  Or, ‘I will listen with real interest when old Mrs. So and So tells me the same story for the umpteenth time today.’

A resolution is ultimate and firm.  It transcends time—or rather it’s supposed to.  Ultimately, it is the resolutions we make which build our true character.  Trouble is we put so much emphasis on the BIG things, like Health Care, that we ignore the little ones, like taking care of the health of our loved ones.  We rush to put our elderly in nursing homes when a little reconfiguration of their own homes would help them stay independent longer.

Right now I am potty training our new puppy.  This is my first dog, ever.  It’s a bit more work than I had anticipated.  For one thing, she likes to pee in one spot and do something else in a completely different spot.  Because I have praised her so much when she actually sets foot on the litter pad, she now goes there often—NOT to pee—but to let me know she would like a treat just for setting foot on it.

So, I am taking it day by day, just like my resolutions.  2011 will find me knitting my life like a sweater; stitch by stitch and row by row.  I know full well that I can’t start the sleeves until the body is finished.  Just like I know this ten week-old pup will not be house trained overnight.  So today, my Resolution is to anticipate her signals better.  Meanwhile, I have the 409 and paper towels handy!  (Helen Hudson is the author of, “Kissing Tomatoes,” a non-fiction memoir of her grandmother’s Alzheimer’s.  http://www.helen-hudson.com).


     When Granny* first taught me how to eat an artichoke, I was perturbed that I had to go through all those layers of armor just to get to that mushroom cap of a heart.  Frankly, at 13, I thought the best part was the butter dipping.  Until last night, as I began instructing my own teenagers on the ‘art’ of eating one, I never realized how much artichokes remind me of old people: thin-skinned, thorny & tough on the outside, multi-layered, increasingly soft towards the middle, and way, down deep inside is a heart so delectable it is protected by a Fort Knox of cellulose.  

     “Artichokes,” the dictionary also tells me, “have a very, long growing season and prefer mild climates.”  Sounds like old folks to me.   On first glance, you really don’t want to get too close to them.  (The artichokes, that is).  The two I had purchased were hard as rocks & my youngest, in particular, was skeptical.  After steaming them, though, we began with the scrawny, meatless, tough outer stalks.   They were scaly and mottled with spots just like the skin of, yeah, you know.  My oldest marveled at the design & symmetry of their leaves as my youngest impatiently rolled her eyes.  “Ouch!” she said suddenly.  “You never said there were thorns on these!” 

     The truth is I had forgotten.  It’s funny how one forgets the barbs as time passes.  Now, we peeled our way deep towards the center where the petals are lighter and softer, and the flesh thicker with taste.  Down we dove, eating through the tender, inner layers, lined with purple edges that form a whitish curve inwards.  “Now grab hold of that section and pull,” I commanded.  My oldest tugged lightly.  “No.  Really pull it hard and kind of wiggle it.”  Suddenly it broke free. There was the carpet of white, cilia-like, thin fibers hovering tightly over the heart.  Indeed, it resembled a full crown of white hair.  “Is this the choke?  Will I choke if I eat it?” my youngest queried.   “Not if we scrape it away.” 

     Patiently, we took a spoon and carved the hairs away until the heart was smooth.  My oldest savored the morsel with a touch of lemon and salt and pronounced it, “Pretty good.”  My youngest, not overly fond of any vegetable, said it was, “Okay, but that sure is a lot of work for that little bit of food.”  Yes.  So is life.  So also is learning to appreciate the old folks among us.   Both are journeys well worth taking.  For the record,  I find them deliciously splendid and rich at heart!.  (The old folks that is.)  *From “Kissing Tomatoes,” by Helen Hudson.  http://www.helen-hudson.com)         


     Only ONCE did Granny say to me during her Alzheimer’s years, “I think I am losing my memory.”  It was towards the end, in the middle of that period when she was wearing a diaper and I was re-instructing her on how to use a spoon.  She didn’t even know my name and my first instinct was to laugh.  Instead I replied:  “Yes, Granny.  You are.”  She paused and then added, “Well, I guess that’s God’s way of making me forget what might hurt me to remember.”** 

     Wow.  That moment literally changed my thinking about the whole Alzheimer’s saga; the nightmarish horror of watching a person go from themself to NO self.  Until then I was always on the outside looking in.  Now I had a tiny glimpse of the inside looking out and it seemed less frightening.  While memory brings me both joy & sorrow and while it is memory that has informed who I am, it was not mine at birth.  Alzheimer’s returns us to childhood, albeit in a convoluted way.  Of course the particular journey back differs for everyone. 

     In all, Granny’s journey was a gentle one, much like the man who swam next to me this morning.  Well, he wasn’t swimming exactly, just kind of grinning as he dog-paddled back and forth.  I guessed him at about 65, but the incessant grin was more reminiscent of a six year-old.  As I lapped him I kept trying to remember where I had seen him before.  I knew that it was not here in the adult lap pool.  Then it came to me.  He was the same man I had seen months earlier being held by the hand of a caregiver in the shallow end of the kiddie pool!! 

     For a moment I panicked.  I stopped to check on him.  Yup.  Still grinning with his head out of the water.  Suddenly, he stopped, and said to me, “Oh.  I thought you were my daughter.”  Before I could reply he said, “Or my daughter’s friend?  Or are you my …daughter….?”  As he kept trying to figure out who I was, I suddenly replied:  “Yes.  I am your friend.  We are friends!”  “Friends!” he grinned as he dog-paddled away.  As I left, I recognized his caregiver on the other side of the kiddie pool.  “Does he have Alzheimer’s?” I asked her.  “Why, yes,” she replied.  “How did you know?”   “Well,” I replied.  “There are certain things you don’t forget…..at least while you can still remember.”   (** Excerpt from, “Kissing Tomatoes,” http://www.helen-hudson.com.    


     I was raised by a grandmother who believed you should put your heart in the moment.  She never looked back or too far forward and it drove me crazy.  Why?  Because her complacency appeared to me as a total lack of ambition.  I had plans.  She just smiled with a deep sense of inner peace that completely eluded me.  Still does.*  

     Now every day I swim 1/2 mile in a usually too cold, chlorine filled, cement pool.  Back & forth, back & forth.  16 back and forths every day.  Yes, EVERY day.  No, I don’t particularly enjoy swimming, but my knees are too shot to run & it keeps the arthritis at bay.  I detest the too tight cap that rips my hair every time I pull it on and off.  Absolutely loathe the goggles that leave round, racoon marks around my eyes for hours afterwards.  In fact, I truly hate every single agonizing stroke.  What’s even more ridiculous is that even though I KNOW I am going to swim every morning –I delay getting there as long as possible.  Yesterday, for example, I actually pulled the whole dryer out just to clean lint from behind it.  Fortunately, I hadn’t done it in a while and managed a full 1/2 hour delay.  Anything to keep from getting to that swim.  But when it’s over I’m a new person & fairly bubble with joy as I float out the YMCA door. 

     Today, there was a little boy in the lane next to me.  He was merely paddling a bit and then floating on a styrofoam noodle while he stared out the window.  I huffed and puffed past him several times.  ‘Just wait ’till he’s older,’ I thought to myself.  ‘He’ll be trying to stay in shape and huffing and puffing, too.’  I did the backstroke and the butterfly but the waves I created didn’t seem to disturb the simple joy he seemed to find in just floating.  Finally I stopped.  “No school today, huh?” I asked him.  “Nope,” he said with a smile.  “How old are you?” I continued.  “Six,” he replied.  “Oh,” I said slightly surprised, “I figured you were at least seven.”  He looked straight at me with his gentle, blue eyes.  “Well,” he paused, “I WILL be seven on Saturday.” He seemed mystified that I had guessed so closely.  “You mean to tell me that in two days you will be seven?  Most kids would say, ‘I’m almost seven.’  He just smiled, looked back out the window and replied, “Well, right now I’m just happy being six.”  For a moment, I saw my grandmother.  (* Excerpt from “Kissing Tomatoes,” http://www.helen-hudson.com)    


     Exactly two weeks ago today, I began this blog having no idea what to expect.  Imagine both my shock and pleasure having just discovered this afternoon that 450 of you have actually CLICKED on my little page of thoughts!  I am both pleased and certainly humbled.  When one writes, it is always alone in a room with the hope that someday, somewhere, someone might actually read it and find something of value. 

     My Granny Jo, whom I wrote about in, “Kissing Tomatoes,” and I had a little ‘thing’ we did upon kissing each others cheek:  ‘I’m gonna kiss your tomatoes,’ one of us would say.  Ultimately, of course, it led to, “I’m gonna kiss your peaches.”  And then, when she grew old and her cheeks were wrinkly, I often said, “I’m gonna kiss your little apricots.”  Silly stuff–and yet it found its way to the title.  

     When I think about it, though, it really is the ‘little things’ in life that often make the deepest impressions on us.  For the last few years, when my husband gets up before I do (which is often), he makes me a cup of coffee and leaves it on the counter.  Even though he has done this at least a hundred times, I am always touched when I see it there.  As I pick it up, I can tell how long he has been up from the temperature of the coffee.  If it is still quite hot, he has just gone to work.  If it is quite cold, I know I am too late arising!!  

     I have so come to count on this ‘little’ thing that several weeks ago when I went into the kitchen and it wasn’t there, I actually had a quiet little panic inside.  ‘Is he all right?’ I worried.  ‘Has something happened?’ I wondered.  Turns out the machine was just out of water and in his rush to work, he hadn’t had time to fill it.  So, thank you for taking a little moment of your day to share a piece of mine.  I am presently savoring the 450 little cups of coffee you ‘clicked’ upon my counter.   (http://www.helen-hudson.com)


     Before we had our cat, Skitter, I thought that people who doted on their pets were complete idiots.   ‘It’s not like they can talk to you or do anything productive,’ I used to say.  But when my oldest turned six and that tiny ball of fluff arrived, I did an about-face.  I became downright besotted.  Even though I was the one who fed her, changed the litter and made the vet appointments, she was worth it.  The kids loved her and even Dad came around the day she plunked in his lap and began to purr. 

     After awhile I was certain that she understood me.  ‘We’ had conversations understood only by us.  I did all the talking but I was sure she listened.  Her ears even cocked towards the sound of my voice.  And get this:  I brushed her with my own hairbrush!  For 9 years, she followed us coast to coast, grew bigger, navigated puberty w/ my oldest and shred a few pieces of furniture in the process.   

     One afternoon I found her licking the dinner bell.  Odd.  The next day she wouldn’t eat & hid herself deep in the closet.  Once the vet diagnosed feline leukemia, the only hope was a blood transfusion.  He said she’d be in pain and likely wouldn’t hold on, so I let her go.  It was hard and haunted me for months.  

     Now my neighbor has a dog.  He loves strutting behind that highly groomed pooch.  Treats him like he’s the Crown Prince of Something.  Picks up his poop in a plastic bag as if he were gathering rare gems.  Calls him, “Buddy.”  Talks to him with such affection and kindness that the day he first spoke to me I was taken aback.  He’s not a very nice guy.  In fact, in 3 years, we’ve only spoken twice.  During our  last conversation, talk drifted to aging parents.  “My mother got that dementia thing,” he told me.  “Put her in a home and that was that.  Don’t know what all the fuss is about.  You can put ’em anywhere.  Doesn’t matter.  They don’t know where they are anyway.”  Wonder what he’ll do when Buddy gets old and loses his swagger.   (http://www. helen-hudson.com