Faye Molnau no longer gardens. She has Alzheimer's disease and can't always tell flowers from weeds, so now her husband and adult children take care of the flower and vegetable beds.
But Faye still likes finding pretty blooms in the yard.
"She'll say, 'Come look, just come and look,' " said her husband, Jim Molnau, speaking recently at the couple's home in Lakeville. "She'll show me a flower. She doesn't know what the flowers are. She just knows they're flowers."
The Molnaus, both 69 and retired, have adjusted their lives in a lot of ways since Faye's Alzheimer's was diagnosed five years ago. They used to play Yahtzee together, but Faye can't play anymore. So they watch TV — "Wheel of Fortune," "The Price is Right" — sitting side-by-side on the sofa. They've taken trips to Colorado and Branson, Mo.; since Faye can no longer help navigate, they travel by bus, where they can relax and talk.
The family likes to tell the story of how Faye diagnosed her Alzheimer's herself.
"She came to me and said, 'My thinker don't work no more. My brain is broken,' " Jim said. "And we talked and we realized there was something wrong."
"I knew something wasn't right," Faye said. "I had a hard time pushing the buttons on the microwave. I had a hard time writing a check."
Faye was mostly just listening to the conversation. She often can't think of words or loses her train of thought. But when she speaks, she is pleasant and frank.
"It got to the point where she had a hard time with the stove and oven, changing the channels on the TV," said Jim.
Nowadays the Molnaus spend most of their time enjoying each other's company. They bake cookies together, Faye scooping them onto the baking sheets, Jim measuring the ingredients and operating the oven. They go out to dinner at least once a week. On nice evenings, they sit together on the patio, chatting with neighbors or just watching cars go by.
Of course, there is also sadness. Friends and family don't visit as much as they used to, Jim said. "That really disappoints me."
There was the time Faye called Jim by their dog's name, Shadow — not just in a brief slip, but insistently.
"She said 'Your name is Shadow.' I said, 'No, I'm either Dad or Jim.' That was the most heartbreaking week I had."
Faye once worked as a beautician and held a number of other jobs. Most recently, she cooked in a school cafeteria, but was forced to quit because she was unable to take her turn at the cash register.
"She loved visiting with the kids," Jim said. "We'd go shopping and they'd say, 'There's my lunch lady! Hi, Mrs. Molnau!' She'd say hi back to them and give them a hug."
Faye listened, quietly wiping away tears.
Jim volunteers at a food shelf, leaving Faye at home for a while a day or two a week. He doesn't worry about her, even when she takes Shadow for walks. She knows not to go far, he said. Besides, if necessary Shadow could lead the way home.
He knows a time will come when Faye can't be left alone. But for now Jim does not consider, say, entering her in an adult day program.
"I don't think she'd like it," he said. "And I'm not ready to let her go."
Even if she can't do everything she used to do, Jim wants to spend as much time with his wife as he can, while he can.
"We're lucky to have her," Jim said. He said it more than once.