Thursday, January 31, 2008

My Read of An Uncertain Inheritance - Part 3

An Uncertain Inheritance: Writer’s on Caring for Family edited by Nell Casey

Joanne D. Kiggins in her blog, WritingAfterDark, gave a real review.

Death in Slow Motion by Eleanor Cooney (read January 30, 2008)

I really enjoyed reading this story. I think at least in part it is because this one was particularly about Alzheimer's. The mother is the loved one in this story and the daughter and her "mate" are the primary caregivers with help from a brother.

More particularly I guess it is her ability to write about the symptoms and the behaviors and her feelings and actions as well as her mate's. I've highlighted a good many passages. I will share a few:

"Take time out for yourself, they chant. Time out for yourself? I'll let you in on a secret. There is no time out, not even when you are sound asleep."

"Before we knew it, we were financially dependent on her."

"And then there was plenty of good old-fashioned guilt: guilt over dragging my mother away from her home, ... "

"What's the point of fun if you can't remember it."

"Here's an intimate and unhappy fact of senile dementia: They become unappetizing. The don't bathe unless you make them. ... "

"After my mother's arrival we produced 558 dinners on schedule, every night, without fail ... "

Now this last one made me think. I was just 2 months short of 9 years but we had about 3 months in the hospital all together so that's about 103 months or roughly 3,090 days. That's for Dad. I had Mom about 34 months or 1,020 days. That is more than 4,100 suppers, lunches, breakfasts, and snacks. And nearly all of them at the same time every day. Never had thought about it like that.

"If I went and locked myself into the bathroom, she'd go outside, circle around, and tap-tap-tap on the window. Her need for me and her vigilance wore me down, down."

"... she'd been undressing ... and I'd seen the gentle curve of her belly, and when I got home that night after putting her to bed I lay on the floor and wept helplessly for an hour."

There's a lot more good stuff in this one. She's an atheist by the way.

Mourning in Altaic by Ed Bok Lee (read January 30, 2008)

Oh man - another one I really, really liked. Father is the patient in this one. The son is the writer and he does not do all the caregiving but doggone he really does a good job of writing about his father and his father's illness.

I think it is more about a son trying to really understand and come to grips with his father as much as anything.

Here is one amazing exchange between the two that is included:

'"Maybe you could pray," I said. I knew form my mother that his father had been an old-school Confucian, his mother a Buddhist, but his older sister a devout Christian. "I do," he said. "To whom?" I'd gotten used to rubbing his legs without having to ask, the skin astonishingly loose against sharpest bone. "I don't know," he whispered.'
Good read.

Don't Worry, It's Not an Emergency by Susan Lehman (read January 30, 2008)

I liked this one, too. Mother is loved one and daughter is caregiver and moves her mother from Toledo to New York City.

It is the description of the characters in this one that I love so much. I think it's impossible to make up stuff like this. And the interaction of the children with their grandmother is astonishingly wonderful for me.

In The Land of Little Girls by Ann Hood (read January 30, 2008)

Oh my! I cried reading this one. I've been in the hospital with my children. I've been in the hospital with loved ones who nearly died and who did die.

You must prepare yourself before reading this one but it is a must. I am not going to add more because it is just too powerful.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Celebrate Recovery

I have a friend who has some problems (Don't we all?). He thought maybe he'd benefit from Celebrate Recovery (Web Site) which is a kind of Christian based Twelve Step program.

I knew our church had one and offered to go with him if he wanted. He did. (Friends can be so inconvenient like that!) So we met there about 7 on Tuesday evening. They actually will feed you if you can get there by 6 but that proved impossible for both of us. And I was starving to death by the time I did get there. I did have time to feed the horses and the cat and kiss my wife hello and goodbye before going though.

This was my first time to attend any kind of Twelve Step meeting. I knew about it from reading and friends who were Twelve Steppers. But it is always interesting to actually experience something first hand.

There were more people there than I had imagined. I would have been surprised at seeing some except that I already knew they attended. I think they were surprised to see me. It made me feel a little funny actually just to be there - a little less sure of myself perhaps - or maybe that's not quite right.

Let me try again on that. It's like you watch someone you know who suddenly recognizes you in an unfamiliar place. It isn't just an unfamiliar place but an unexpected place for you. So you watch the flash of recognition that is so quick that I can't even tell you how I know it is there but it is. And then there is the other nearly instantaneous and nearly imperceptible change of countenance that kind of makes you feel your esteem by the someone has fallen some. And then its gone and replaced with the welcoming smile and the happy to see you. Or maybe it is more a puzzlement expression. More like that I think in retrospect.

There was some singing and praise and there were some traditions I was able to pick up quickly. For instance everyone says "Hi, I am so and so" and then that they are a grateful believer in Jesus Christ and then something about the addiction(s) they struggle with. And the crowd, or at least the ones that know what to do, say hi back.

There are some heart tearing testimonies and opening and ending prayers with group response and there's a token ceremony that celebrates days and months of recovery and a chance for new people to make a new commitment by going up and taking this little token or coin.

I was sitting there trying to think what in the world I was going to say if someone asked me why I was there. Because I don't honestly have any addictions - or at least I think I don't. Except that right away I felt that in that setting to say one had no addictions or issues might be perceived as dishonest. I didn't exactly want to say precisely why I was there because I didn't want to embarrass my friend and certainly didn't want to reveal anything about him. I started thinking of things I have struggled with but really they are in the past - at least for now. Not that I am above reproach and far from it and God knows it but anything I thought of was a pretty serious stretch. And I certainly didn't want to demean or devalue others' struggles.

One lady was crying and obviously distressed and also new and there was another single lady that was new. Another young couple was new. And me and my friend made three new women and three new men. All the ones who had been there before left to attend small groups and we separated by gender after we watched a little movie.

When it was my time in our little group I just said how long I had been a believer and that I had come to support my friend.

It was quite an experience for me. I think it is a great bunch of folks who are really, truly trying to help one another. I think they are all terribly and wonderfully brave to do this. Some were already in 12 step programs but wanted something more in line with their faith they said. That made sense to me.

The twelve steps - Celebrate Recovery version:

  1. We admitted we were powerless over our addictions and compulsive behaviors. That our lives had become unmanageable. (Romans 7:18 I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.)
  2. Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. (Philippians 2:13 For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.)
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God. (Romans 12:1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship.)
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. (Lamentations 3:40 Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the LORD.)
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being, the exact nature of our wrongs. (James 5:16a Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.)
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character. (James 4:10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.)
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove all our shortcomings. (1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.)
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all. (Luke 6:31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.)
  9. Made direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. (Matthew 5:23-24 Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.)
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it. (1 Corinthians 10:12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall!)
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and power to carry that out. (Colossians 3:16a Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly.)
  12. Having had a spiritual experience as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others, and practice these principles in all our affairs. (Galatians 6:1 Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.)
Eight recovery principles:
  1. Realize I'm not God; I admit that I am powerless to control my tendency to do the wrong thing and my life is unmanageable. "Happy are those who know they are spiritually poor"
  2. Earnestly believe that God exists, that I matter to him, and that he has the power to help me recover. "Happy are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted"
  3. Consciously choose to commit all my life and will to Christ's care and control. "Happy are the meek"
  4. Openly examine and confess my faults to God, to myself, and to someone I trust. "Happy are the pure in heart"
  5. Voluntarily submit to every change God wants to make in my life and humbly ask Him to remove my character defects. "Happy are those whose greatest desire is to do what God requires"
  6. Evaluate all my relationships; Offer forgiveness to those who have hurt me and make amends for harm I've done to others except when to do so would harm them or others. "Happy are the merciful" "Happy are the peacemakers"
  7. Reserve a daily time with God for self examination, Bible readings and prayer in order to know God and His will for my life and to gain the power to follow His will.
  8. Yield myself to God to be used to bring this Good News to others, both by my example and by my words. "Happy are those who are persecuted because they do what God requires"

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

My Read of An Uncertain Inheritance - Part 2

An Uncertain Inheritance: Writer’s on Caring for Family edited by Nell Casey

Joanne D. Kiggins in her blog, WritingAfterDark, gave a real review.

The Kindle is really a great way to carry around a little library. I have this tendency to have several books under way at one time and this is kind of a nice way to have them with me all the time in a really small footprint. One thing that would be nice though would be a way to hide books already read. Maybe there is and I haven't found it. I guess I could delete the book because Amazon keeps a copy of the book online for you. I guess forever. Another thing would be to go directly to a bookmark if only one exists for a certain book instead of always seeing the list of bookmarks first.

Caring Across Borders: Aging Parents in Another County by Julia Alvarez (read January 28, 2008)

This story has elements that will be familiar to many caregivers. It is the story first and foremost of a family. There are four daughters and there are sibling issues but not so terrible. There's an older parent with Alzheimer's. There's a caregiver parent with medical problems herself. There's the daughters' husbands and children and careers and all the normal things of modern American life. The daughter's ages will be familiar, too.

And then there's the added elements of distance and culture and nationality. Because the parents move to the Dominican Republic from New York City right at the beginning.

There is also family loyalty that is exceedingly strong. It is something I understand and it is uniquely distinctive to this story.

Also I suspect the dynamics of 4 daughters is distinctive. The author even compares her own sisters with Little Women so it must have been prominent in her mind as well. It recalled me for my own mother's 3 sisters as they cared for both their father and their mother. In many ways the birth order issues were familiar to me.

One thread that I found interesting was the author's request of her parents for a benediction upon each parting. It is something she says she never would have requested when she was younger but it became important to her on the first parting and remained so afterwards. Perhaps it had something to do with faith but seemed more family cultural to me.

Did I like this one? Yes, I did like it. I liked this family and I liked reading about them and how they loved and cared for each other. I found inspiration with everyone of them.

I continue to wonder about the absence of faith in these stories. I find it so strange but it does remind me of most of the novels I read where no one prays and no one goes to church and only the nuts are religious. Or maybe it is me and where I live is so different than the rest of the world. Because here one's faith is just a part of everyday life.

Called Them Vitamins by Stephen Yadzinski (read January 28, 2008)

This is a very well written story that I found terribly sad. There's not a scintilla of evidence of faith anywhere that I saw just to cover that point up front.

I was interested immediately in this story because the parents were both musicians playing at symphony level. I find that interesting now because of my own Judy's playing. I thought at first that the mother might have Alzheimer's but it was the father that was ill and his illness would have been a good subject for Mystery Diagnosis.

The parents divorce and the mother moves to Atlanta while the symptoms are nearly missing. The divorce isn't explained but the boys long for home in Buffalo with dad and eventually find their way back.

Dad's symptoms worsen as the boys grow into young men. At the same time Dad's desire for independence increases. This strikes a chord with me for sure and I also know it will for many of my caregiver friends. There are other chords, too. One is about getting up in the middle of the night to pick dad up off the floor of the downstairs kitchen. Another is about all the things that the writer does to help his dad.

I thought the caregiving was too much for someone so young. And it was.

Oh, the vitamins are pain pills. The father calls them vitamins. The son has to open the containers for dad and places them in his brief case pockets.

No, I didn't like this one. It is a sad tale of sad people doing sad things and having sad things happen to them. Sad.

Ruth by Justine Picardie (read January 28, 2008)

There are some references to faith in this one early one: "... the disease ... was ... immune to prayers or pleas or medicine or miracles." It's a stretch I know.

This is a story about two sisters. One becomes ill and requires care and dies in the end. The other is the writer and she tells about the love she and her sister shared. She says up front that she is not sure she should be called a carer. But we, that is me and my caregiver friends, would all include her as a caregiver in our group.

She talks about some of the lesser discussed things of caregiving that she helped bring to the situation. Things like scheduling and transportation and paperwork and money and food her sister enjoyed and laughter. She says her sister taught her that "small pleasures can be as precious at the end of life as the big stuff." I liked that.

And she talks some about her "many failures" for which she still feels shame. I and my friends all know that one.

There's a place she writes about "other people's expressions of misery about her illness" and "ones who used to behave as if nothing was wrong, or tell her not to worry, their aunt's friend has survived breast cancer." We all know those feelings, too.

One unexpected part of this story is the sister's "disinhibited behavior"caused by a brain tumor. The chief symptom was rage. And there's a place at the end where she wants to give her sister her own strength but couldn't. All too familiar I think.

The end of the story includes hospice and pain and morphine and a lot of love and death.

I liked this story very much.

One thing I disagreed a little with was a statement near the end: "Because that's one of the things you learn about caring: it's huge, but it doesn't work miracles, despite being miraculously limitless." Caregiving is huge and it does not work miracles itself. But in my own caregiving I experienced so many miracles I really couldn't write them all. I don't mean I had anything to do with them but had God withheld His miracles from me I would not have survived. And my caregiving was not limitless. In fact I found my limits to be absurdly narrower than I first thought. Again it was God Who got me through.

This is a really sweet story, especially for sisters.

Notes on Accepting Care by Andrew Solomon (read January 28, 2008)

No faith in this story.

It's about the writer's depression and his own father's care for him during this particularly bad time. At the start there's a part about his mother's illness and his own role in caring for her and the way he felt about his father and his mother and himself. Really good treatment of depression which I suppose is not surprising given the author's credentials.

One thing that bothered me a little was his admission that he really resented his father's asking him for help with his mother during her illness. He was 25 then. That's younger than my son but I wonder if my son resents my asking and expecting and getting his help during my own parents' illnesses. I think my son was okay with it but this essay made me wonder about it.

He describes his father's "lack of ambivalence" regarding the care of his wife and the author's mother. The father wasn't ambivalent about taking care of his son later on either. That struck me though because that's the way my dad was and I remember thinking about that early on when I came to live with my parents.

Liked the father in this one a lot. Liked the writing.

The Baby by Anne Landsman (read January 28, 2008)

She's the baby of the family. The family is one of those where the parents squabble but hang together and there's very little expression of affection and love. She and her siblings leave South Africa for the United States and her parents remain. Her father is a country doctor and her mother manages the practice.

There is religion in this story. They are Jewish for one thing and then a Jesuit Priest plays an important part towards the end. I find no faith here.

I think it is a story that deals with the struggle of relationship between a child and parent and a child and aging parents and finally a child and a dying parent. And there's a "sandwich" issue that I found important and touching.

I did like it and I find it troubling in a way. I'm not sure exactly why it is troubling but it and the previous one kind of hang with me right now.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

My Read of An Uncertain Inheritance - Part 1

An Uncertain Inheritance: Writer’s on Caring for Family edited by Nell Casey

Joanne D. Kiggins in her blog, WritingAfterDark, gave a real review.

I wouldn't have purchased this book except for the fact that Joanne reviewed it. And when I looked on Amazon it was available in a Kindle edition and I'm really into my Kindle right now. But I am not a good book reviewer and really don't enjoy doing such things. I don't particularly want to be objective about it and I think objectivity is required for a good review. So I'll leave the real reviewing to Joanne.

But I thought it might be an interesting topic for my blog and kind of keep me posting for a while. I decided I would read the book chapter by chapter and then write about my own deeply subjective feelings about the material and about the subject of caregiving from my own perspective. So this isn't really a review but more of a written account of my experience of reading this book.It's going to take more than one post, too, so that's why I'm doing parts. Still there are 21 chapters including the foreword and the introduction so I'm going to try to cover at least 5 in each of my reviews.

You may think I am harsh and critical about some of these. I do not mean it to be so. I am not saying that the work is unimportant or insignificant or even that I did not benefit in some way. Rather it is about my feeling from the reading.

foreword by Frank McCourt (read January 24, 2008)

I didn't know who Frank McCourt was so I had to look him up and that's why I linked his name to the Wiki article. I remembered him when I read the article. I didn't like Angela's Ashes very much when I read it. My daughter did though and she gave a copy to me not long after I came to live with Mom and Dad and begin my caregiving. So maybe it was the time I tried to read it as much as it was the book itself.

He begins by recounting a story of his youth, or childhood more properly, when he delivered telegrams to a hospice and how curious he was about death and dying. Try as I might I could not really appreciate this story. I suppose I was the odd child out because I never had the curiosity about death and dying that McCourt recounts. I say "odd child out" though because I recognize that a lot of kids did then and now do.

He continues that this book made him continuously recall memories like that from his past. "There are, I think, two great themes in this book: suffering and heroism" he writes. He concludes that there is heartbreak, humor, dignity, and grace to be found in this book and at the end "you'll want to stand and cheer."

At the time I'm writing this I've only managed the first essay and I'm hoping further reading will make me feel that way because I certainly don't now, that is stand and cheer.

I did notice that Mr. McCourt's foreword is dated January 17, 2007. So I began reading this book 1 year and 1 week to the day afterward. That's 3 days after the 5th month anniversary of my Dad's death, too.

introduction by Nell Casey (read January 24, 2008)

Just in case you're wondering I am using the lower case on tine "foreword" and "introduction" because that's the way it is printed in the book.

And, yes, I searched for Nell Casey. I probably will search or have already every name I find. I seem to do that a lot now I notice. I figure if I do it then others do it as well.

This introduction could very well be a review of the entire book. There are several paragraphs that are just beautifully written and worth reading just for the sake of reading the words if not the material itself. I especially like the first paragraph and the last. In between is mixed with things about each of the succeeding chapters or essays and data about numbers of caregivers and things like that.

The introduction concludes with "We endure." I intend to but I hope the process of reading becomes less about endurance and more about enjoyment or at least inspiration. But maybe that's too much to ask for such material.

My Father the Garbage Head by Helen Schulman (read January 24, 2008)

In the actual book - well I don't have the actual book but I have the Kindle version of the actual book - this title is also in lower case. But it seems unnatural for me to continue that so I'm back to my own scheme which is capitalizing the titles. This way I don't have to try to remember what I'm doing. And so now you know something not necessarily flattering about me.

This essay is emotional and comes across as brutally honest and straight forward. That said though I didn't like this essay very much. It is not a tribute either to Ms. Schulman's father or herself for that matter. Nell Casey says that this essay is a "... criticism of the tendency to idealize the caregiver." With all due respect I don't see it that way although I do agree that there is a tendency to idealize the caregiver and I also agree that this essay in no way does that.

I've read this one now three times. I've tried to like it. I like Ms. Schulman's writing but I don't much like this material.

I never really felt connected to Ms. Schulman or her father or the family. There were things I connected with to be sure. I guess I'm trying to say that I could never quite relate my own caregiving experience with hers or her father's death with my father's death or my mother's death or the death of anyone in my family really.

I was trying to understand why I feel this way and that caused the multiple reads. Usually I would not subject myself to more displeasure with reading.

I have a few answers I think. At first I wondered if it was entirely the early revelation that her father was an atheist and terrified of death. This didn't really startle me exactly but I think it did flavor the rest of the material on the first read. Atheism is not terribly comforting about death and I know that first hand because I was one for a good many years. It isn't as discomforting as one might think however. In fact I could argue and did that the great nothingness after death was better than any potential eternal torment. And there's even something rather admirable about someone clinging to a deeply held belief even in the face of death. But there's something peculiarly selfish and unsympathetic and unheroic about it, too. I think it is the selfishness that bothered me most.

Then there was the part about love. She writes about telling her father that she would love him and be there for him. And he tells her that her love really will not help him. Here again I understood what she believed he meant and I even appreciated it. Also again the selfishness bothered me.

Then there is the entire thing about killing him. That bothered me. And there is more about the mother. And that bothered me. And I understood both things.

But I think none of these things were the most important factor.

I think it was the blogs I read and have been reading a while now, that is, the blogs of my fellow caregiver friends. Some of us have experienced one or more deaths of our loved ones. Some of us are still caregiving. I think I connect more with them though because of the regular posts we all make and read. I think that is too hard to do in a single, brief essay. Maybe if I had been reading Ms. Schulman's blog for a while and had gone through the thing with her I would have more connection. Maybe blogging has just changed forever my expectation of books.

Now let me say that this essay is worth reading for a number of reasons. But if I had to choose only one it would be the incredibly vivid description of her father's death. This is one powerful account. I would read the essay again just for this account.

I did not enjoy this essay but I am glad I read it. I am slogging onward. I can't spend this much time writing about these chapters or I'm never going to get done.

The Gift by Sam Lipsyte (read January 27, 2008)

Lipsyte's title comes from a statement that someone made to him about his caregiving for his mother. He writes that his first impulse was to strike the person. He admits that he thought there might be a tiny bit of hidden truth in the assertion. The end of the essay comes full circle actually (as any good essay should - we still use chiasmus I guess). He still doesn't think it was much of a gift and says so.

Just like the first essay there were several things to which I could easily relate. Lipsyte was living with his mother because his own life was in shambles and she was giving him a chance to start over. I relate to that except that my own shambles was already in the process of being reclaimed and I felt caregiving was a huge interruption. At least I felt that way at first. And I understand the resentment about the gift talk. Except that I did come to understand the enormity of the gift I had been blessed to receive.

I wonder if one of the requirements for writing an essay for this book is to be a person without faith. And maybe to write exclusively from a selfish perspective. Except for a few paragraphs that the writer himself characterizes as being "implausible and sentimental" and "sounding like one of those nurses spouting crap about angels" there is nothing remotely spiritual here except that it is judgmental and derisive to those who do espouse faith.

I did like this essay better than the first one but only marginally.

My Other Husband by Ann Harleman (read January 27, 2008)

This is a sweet and strangely sensual essay and there is love, both physically and emotionally. And there is even a spiritual element albeit subtle.

I related more personally to this story than the previous. Not entirely of course but I was more able to empathize and sympathize with Ms. Harleman. My cousin's husband had MS. And my cousin already had suffered Guillain-Barre for years when they married. About 25 years ago I had a friend who had MS, too. So I knew something about MS and I knew something about spouses who care for each other.

This essay like the others is brutally honest and no holds barred.

Here it is the husband who has MS. I recognize much of what Ms. Harleman writes about his moods and trips to the ER and of their everyday life together. This lady holds my attention. While she makes no effort to paint herself in a positive light, by the end of the essay I hold her with esteem and gratitude.

Unlike the preceding articles I found beauty, love, and inspiration here. I shall read it again.

Elliott by Jerome Groopman (read January 27, 2008)

WOW! What a surprise is this little story. For me it was riveting and suspenseful. For one thing it was such a different perspective than one I could myself imagine. And I mean that both from the point of view of the friend and the loved one.

I loved the ending which is a wonderful Psalm. I shall write no more about it but I loved this essay.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Ten Tenors

Friday night we went to see the Ten Tenors. A friend and his wife invited us some time ago and we accepted. We bought supper at Steak and Ale and our friends bought the tickets. And they drove us there as well.

There was the Oklahoma City Civic Center Music Hall. I saw Yo-Yo Ma perform at this same hall several years ago. That was a fabulous performance. And this is a fabulous venue since it was remodeled several years ago. It was even better Friday night although it was really cold and a little nasty on the weather side to get there.

We sat in the box seats left of stage (as you are looking at) and on the mezzanine level which is about the 4th story. The box seats don't really offer the best view of the entire stage but still it was a tremendous experience to be there and watch and listen and clap and yell and holler and stuff.

We hope to go again when Art Garfunkel comes in a few weeks. I saw him and Paul Simon about 30 plus years ago now when I was attending the University of Oklahoma. That performance was in the old field house. I think it is gone now but back then it was pretty small and intimate and held about 5,000 of us. But then again that was when Simon and Garfunkel were new and not nearly so popular as they later became.

Today we watched Hairspray. I thought "Good grief is that a man?" when the star's mother first appeared. And it was John Travolta. We enjoyed it.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Peas and Carrots

We were like peas and carrots, Jenny and I.
Forest Gump
"Peas and Carrots" was the title of Associate Pastor Dennis Guillon's message on Wednesday night. It was an outstanding message in composition, content, and execution. And I don't say that very often. His stated goal was to help a little in the understanding of God's love for His creatures and particularly us humans.

So Pastor Dennis used "Forest Gump" (the 1994 movie from the 1986 book) as an aid in illustrating certain aspects of love. He played clips from the movie.

Tom Hanks is one gifted actor. That's one thing I thought. The first clip was the one where Forest meets Jenny for the first time on the school bus. She invites him to sit beside her and he falls head over heels in love with her from that first moment. Later Forest and Jenny kind of hang out with each other. Jenny wants Forest to stay at one point when they are up in this tree watching the stars. Forest wonders about that and then we learn that Jenny's home life is terrible and her father is abusing her and his other children. Forest and Jenny are in this field and Jenny prays that God turn her into a bird so she can fly away. Forest says that God didn't turn her into a bird but sent the police to take her to live with her grandmother. Forest was happy about that because she lived closer to him he says.

Later on in the movie, several times, Forest and Jenny are reunited through various and seemingly impossible circumstances. And each time Forest rescues Jenny or tries to and tells her that he loves her. And each time Jenny is thankful but spurns Forest's advances. And Forest is ever the gentleman and respects her wishes. He isn't happy about it but he honors her person by acceding to her wishes. I thought that was in rather sharp contrast to some of the other men that Jenny is involved with who treat her terribly. There are a lot of things about Forest Gump that are not very true to real life. But that particular thing isn't one of them in my experience. At one point Jenny tells Forest that he doesn't know what love is. Of course it is obvious that Forest does know and it is Jenny who doesn't.

Forest goes on to say he isn't a very smart man but he knows what love is. I thought that was interesting because I do think that love and intelligence don't necessarily go together. Some of the sweetest, most loving people I've met were people who used to be called retarded. Even funnier was the fact that everyone recognized how sweet they were. And some of the smartest people I've known have been the least loving.

Before the message Pastor Dennis asked us to get together with our neighbors in groups of 3 or 4 or 5 and to pray for one another. So I moved down to this little group in front of me and to the right. It was a young woman with two young children and an older lady. The older lady was older than me I think but honestly she could have been closer to my age than I want to believe. The younger woman's name was the same as mine. I introduced myself to each one and offered my hands. The younger took my right with her left and with her other she took the little girl's left hand. The older lady should have taken my hand. I was standing and she was seated. She reached her right hand for the younger woman's hand. I looked down into her face. And I saw that look of confusion that I have too frequently seen before. I offered my hand but she was confused about it and reluctant so I allowed my left hand to rest upon her right shoulder but only so lightly. She seemed okay with that.

In an instant I thought "Alzheimer's" to myself. I don't know that of course because we prayed and I went back to where I'd been sitting and we never spoke again. The children colored and I noticed they showed the older lady their work. It may have been some other kind of dementia or it may have been something else entirely. The younger lady sat right next to the older. The older lady had a certain dependence upon the younger. I don't know exactly how I know that but I do and I know it very well.

I thought that was interesting that I would experience that just before a sermon dealing with God's love.

Later on Jenny sends for Forest and tells him she is sick. He tells her that he will take care of her. And she asks him to marry her and they do and then she dies. He buries her under the tree they played on as children.

Of course Pastor Dennis left out a lot of stuff from the movie that was inappropriate for our audience and that didn't advance his theme.

But still it was a great message. I think human love is one of those things that is hard to know in the first place and God's love is orders of magnitude above that. It's a little like the wind in that you can't really see it but you see the effects of it.

In the Bible it says that God loved us while we were yet sinners. (But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8) Forest's love for Jenny was certainly not dependent upon Jenny's actions or her health or even whether or not she returned his affection.

I thought all those improbable, chance meetings of Forest and Jenny was good, too. I look back over my life and that's exactly how it has been with me and God. Over and over again I'd reject Him and over and over again He would show up and usually help me out of some scrape or another. Certainly improbable circumstances in my life kept bringing us together. I know a lot of people like that, too, that have had their own improbable circumstances. Some of them have decide God's real and moved in with Him. Most of them haven't though.

Anyway it was a really good message.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Why Am I Still Blogging?

I don't know all the reasons really. I don't have anything of significance to say not that I ever did for that matter. But that was never the reason for the blog in the first place.

It is not as therapeutic for me as it was when I was caring for Dad. Then I had lots of sitting time and it gave me something to do. I don't have that time anymore. I was alone but not alone. And there were long hours of being alone like that with nearly nothing to do punctuated by the frequently occurring crisis of varying duration and intensity. It was good for me then to read about others who were doing the same things and experiencing similar emotions and grief. And it did help me to write about how I felt. It really didn't matter if anyone read or not. It was the writing it that seemed to make some difference.

Then someone commented and I felt supported by that comment. And I wanted to return some support and so I commented myself. One blog led to another. We became friends connected by Internet words and a peculiar disease.

That's why I am still blogging I think. I don't want to say good-bye to my friends. Stopping the blog feels like saying good-bye.

Yesterday a man I've known since I was a teenager stopped by the office. I couldn't remember if he had been told about Dad's death. He and his wife were good friends to mom and dad. They were in that generation in between me and dad. Well, closer to me I guess. Although 12 years to a teenager is a lot more than it is to a 60 year old. But still it is 18 years away from Dad's age.

Dad and mom had friends of all ages. I notice I have friends of all ages, too. I wonder if it is chemical or environmental. I suppose a bit of both like so many things.

We had a good visit. He has a sod farm now. I've bought sod from him in fact. Finally he said "Well, tell me about Alton." And I said "Dad died September 21st. I'm sorry I didn't contact you and let you know. I know you wanted to know but we just didn't get everyone contacted." He said he was really sorry to learn about Dad's death and he talked about how fine a man Dad was and what all he had meant to his life. I told about Dad's last moments.

Strange I thought that it would be on the 4 month anniversary of Dad's death. No one mentioned it though. I knew it of course but I did not dwell on it.

I may stop blogging for a while. I am still reading my friend's blogs.

High School Musical

We watched 1 and 2 of this movie last Friday night and Saturday afternoon. We both really enjoyed the entire DVD including the other features. We especially liked the rehearsals that were included.

I think we enjoyed the first one more than the second but maybe just because it was new. The music, the choreography, the actors, even the stories - were all entertaining and just kind of "nice".

Oleysa Rulin plays Kelsi Nielsen. She reminds me so much of Judy's oldest granddaughter it is uncanny.

And strangely enough Judy's granddaughter recently played the part in a stage performance at her school. After we watched the movie we certainly understood choosing her to play the character. Always helps if you look like someone.

These kids are all very young. Oleysa Rulin was 20 when the first musical was released. Vanessa Hudgens was only 18 and Zac Efron was 19.

We really enjoyed watching Lucas Grabeel who plays Ryan Evans in the film. He was especially interesting in the rehearsals clips. And Ashley Tisdale was great, too.

Really good movies if you haven't gotten to see them. Made me feel good.

Monday, January 21, 2008


Verichip RFID for people

This thing has been out for a while and received FDA approval in 2004. It's been on all of the major networks.

Verichip's parent company is Applied Digital Solutions. Then in early 2007 a new business was created to promote the product for human use. You won't believe the name of the new company - or maybe you will - Xmark.

You just can't make this stuff up - X mark. One competitor is Digital Angel. (Angel!!) These people must be more isolated from popular culture than I am.

The data on the Verichip is not encrypted so anyone with a reader can access the data. There is instruction on the Internet to clone the chips, too. At least one successful cloning was done as a demonstration. If you come too close to certain communication equipment it is also possible to get rather painful and dangerous RF burns.

At least one company has developed a shirt which shields the user from RFID scanners.

A lot of interest in protecting Alzheimer's sufferers using the Verichip.

Struck me as interesting.

Sunday, January 20, 2008


I went to the grocery store for us the other day. I've done it several times. It isn't like being a pioneer to a new world.

Judy says I'm a good husband. Apparently because I occasionally do something like going to the grocery store or carrying in her saxophone or washing the dishes or clothes or what not. Always makes me smile because I enjoy getting compliments from her and because I think to myself that the standard for husbands must be absurdly low. But I digress.

So I needed to buy some dish washing detergent and I wandered over to the dish washing detergent aisle. That's staggering in itself that my store would have a significant portion of shelf space dedicated to detergent. There are about a jillion varieties of product available for purchase there. But I was able to narrow my search to the brand, Dawn. Mom used Dawn and I continued the tradition when I took over kitchen duites. And Judy uses Dawn so it was pretty simple to follow suit. Now, honestly, for myself I don't really have a preference for dish washing detergent. But I am more than happy to accommodate another person's taste, especially when the other person is my spouse. Again I digress.

There are a good many choices in just the Dawn line. But this one caught my attention because it was both detergent and air freshener. I laughed when I saw it. I don't know what this adding of features to ordinary products like detergent is called but I find it quite fascinating. AND it is called "Simple Pleasures" and the fragrance I chose is "Water Lily and Jasmine" and, at least to me, the shape is a bit more sensual than what detergent normally conjures in my mind.

In the immortal words of Billy Mays "But Wait." Just next to my selection is "Dawn Hand Soap" on the very same shelf. And it's anti-bacterial and orange. Can't beat that with a stick!

But of course I had to examine this more closely. Because, in my mind, hand soap even if it is Dawn, should not be in the same place as dish washing detergent. But there it was. And I didn't even know that Dawn made hand soap.

There was no other hand soap in this spot. I checked the other brands, too.

Then it made me wonder if it had been done on purpose. Because I bought a bottle of it. And I would not have bought that bottle if it hadn't been in that particular place. And, yes, I did walk over to the hand soap section and check there and, sure enough, no Dawn hand soap was present.

I would like to think it was great and innovative marketing by the grocery store. If for nothing more than as a tribute to my assorted friends of the conspiracy persuasion.

I suspect it is more likely the QED mistake of an earnest but otherwise preoccupied stock boy.

So much for soap.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Work and ritual

Adjusting to work after caregiving has been and continues to be interesting.

There are a lot of changes for me. Ostensibly I'm in charge. But really it is my son who has been shouldering the responsibilities and making most of the decisions. If we are in a meeting and someone asks me a question I notice I look to him for confirmation of my answer. It reminds me of how dad and mom used to turn and look at me when someone would come or something would happen. Except for the 20 years that they were my senior that is.

I've been fascinated though by some of the rituals I observe. And that's how I feel a lot that I am an observer and kind of outside looking in. There are rituals I see or at least that's what I'm calling them.

One of the more interesting is the lunch ritual. There are four of us now most of the time since I've been included. I haven't been participating regularly too long though. For quite a while it seemed like I always had something else to do. Or I just didn't want to eat out for some reason or another. But I'd go with them sometimes. Now I go more. And I must say that I enjoy these lunches very much.

I enjoy them now more than I did at first. I don't know why. I suppose it had something to do with the short time that had elapsed since Dad's death. Or maybe not.

The guys, that is the three other guys, are funny about lunch. They spend quite a bit of time thinking about the next one and talking about previous ones. They like to plan ahead. But they don't really agree on food likes and dislikes.

My son and I are members of the adventurous tribe. We like to try new places. And if it is a bit on the quaint side then so much the better especially if it turns out to be good. And good for us is more than just the food but also the way we are made to feel in the place.

Then one member of our group is from the I-am-eating-nothing-new tribe. He could also be in one of those V8 Juice commercials about the people that don't eat vegetables. He picks the green beans (well green anything) out of stuff.

Then another one of us is more in the middle. He'll try the new places but he's not so happy about it.

The three of them like to tease each other, too. They are merciless sometimes. Often it is funny to me. Sometimes it irritates me to no end. Frequently it makes me reminisce those years when I was the same age and doing some of the same things.

We've made a few new discoveries lately. One is this little Thai place. It isn't very large and located in a store front space in a strip mall but pretty nice. The owner usually waits on us unless he's really busy in the kitchen. He writes the lunch menu down every day on the back of a little restaurant check form - like from the pads. There are 4 sections each specified by a number 1 through 4 and having two or three choices. So you pick one thing from each of the 4 sections and that's your lunch. Except that he competes with the buffet places and he doesn't have room for a buffet so he just tells us if we want more that he'll brink it over. It's like $6 or so. The food is really good. Usually I have Pad Thai and a spring roll and some green curry something and some red curry something else. Except it changes but you get the idea. And I can only eat 1/2 of mine. I can eat a bit more now than when I started. Because Dad and I never did eat very much for lunch. So it is like getting back into the swing of things.

Another place is this really kind of dumpy looking Mexican (as in more New Mexico Mexican) place down in Norman. We like it a lot but it is more expensive. The guys worry about the cost quite a bit.

Then there's this newest place that's by a grocery store and is a family run place and it is Tex-Mex more. But it is good food.

The guys have these friendly arguments over rather trivial issues. Well, sometimes not so trivial either. The arguments lie dormant for awhile - sometimes a long while. Then are resurrected on the most innocent and unexpected triggers and argued with vigor and passion albeit briefly. Only to be returned once more to indefinite slumber upon conclusion of the lunch and not the argument. Topics vary widely and cover the entire spectrum of human thought and activity. Whether we know anything about the topic is totally irrelevant.

Sometimes things are argued in third person. This is funny to me but strangely enough makes me want to join in myself. So then it is "Well, Terry thinks ... "

And right now Terry thinks it is time for slumber.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

There are contractors and then there are contractors

I am replacing the heating and air conditioning systems in my new house so I've visited now with 5 different contractors.

The problem actually is that the under-slab ductwork has been compromised by water and the best solution is to run new ducts overhead and seal up the old. The mechanical equipment was actually replaced in 2001 and is in pretty good shape.

Four of the contractors quoted me pretty much the same way with some minor differences in brands. This includes new compressors and air handlers and the latter would be installed horizontally in the attic. All contractors were competent and had good references and the prices quoted were within an approximate 20% spread. Closer than that if I ignored the very lowest quote.

But the first contractor I visited is different. I thought I was contacting someone else in fact but accidentally called the fellow that came out. I liked him when I met him and he spent quite a bit of time with me.

His quote was quite different from the others. The first thing was that he delivered his in person and he had rather carefully written it out on a sheet of the architectural plan I'd given him. I asked him if he needed it or if I could keep it and he said "Not unless I do the job and I'll come up with the same thing if I have to do it again." The others all emailed or faxed their computer generated quotes. But his quote was actually more complete and informational than the others because he showed me on the plans where he was running the ducts and setting the equipment.

And he installed his equipment upright in the attic. I asked about that and he said "well, you have plenty of attic height and it is easier and safer to install vertically." He elaborated that he could get a good pan around a vertical unit to catch possible leaks and while he could do that with a horizontal unit it would not be as good. Also he is running the duct work out of the top of the unit and up near the roof whereas everyone else was running along the ceiling. He said he didn't like having to walk over ducts in his attic and so he wanted to get mine out of the way for me as well. And I had enough attic height to accommodate what he wanted to do.

But the big thing was that he had selected air handlers that could be used with my existing compressors. It is done with some kind of valve that lets the inside unit accommodate a range of efficiencies in the outside unit.

At any rate his price was about 1/2 the price of the others.

I think he is providing a better job, too, both long and short term.

I was thinking that everyone looked at the same set of facts and 4 of 5 saw the same problem and the same solution.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Givers and Takers

I was visiting with my barber the other day.

I like my barber. So I try to give him business whenever I can. I promote him to my other friends and acquaintances and I usually give him a tip and sometimes a Christmas present. And he reciprocates. When I needed help with Dad he came to the house for me. I paid him but what he did for us you couldn't have hired.

That's the way I am about people I like and count as my friends. I try to give them my own business. Not because I expect something in return but because I like to deal with friends and I'm loyal. Once my barber's daughter needed a car and I had just bought a new one for myself. So I gave his daughter a good deal on my old car. I could have made a little bit more but really I was happier to receive the satisfaction and pleasure of knowing I'd helped my friend's daughter than to earn a little more money. My barber is like I am.

But he was telling about someone that he knows that is not like that and he has known this person far longer than he and I have been friends. This person always tries to get a better deal for himself. If he can't get a better deal then he goes somewhere else. In the same vein he told me about a relative that visited over Christmas and brought her two young adult daughters. My friend and his wife gave the three of them a full salon treatment lasting many hours each. He said they didn't even get so much as a thank you.

I know people like that. Several, I'm afraid. I cringe when I see their numbers appear on my cell phone because I know they want something. I know that because that's the only time they call me.

Oh, they're polite enough. They ask about me and my family and so on for a few seconds. Sometimes I have time to answer. A little foreplay you know. They build up to the climax. Some of them are quite good. After the preliminaries there is a story about some disaster d'jour. And after that it is the application of how this is going to hurt them or their family. And all the things they've tried that didn't work. And then I'm the last hope and there is no one else to turn to and can they please borrow some money. Except they don't really intend to pay it back so we both know "borrow" isn't really the right word. I am going to call them takers.

I was thinking about how to conclude this as I was writing.

I decided two things.

The first is that I don't want to be in the "taker" category. I don't want my friends to cringe when I call them.

The second is that I am not going to be upset about my taker friends. Dad used to say that when you loaned money or anything to friends and relatives that you should expect it to be a gift and treat it that way. Because the relationship is always more important than the thing. So I'm going to try to do that.

Forgiveness is a virtue that requires much practice.

Thursday, January 10, 2008


I've never believed too much in astrology. It never made a lot of sense to me that your personality should have that much to do with the position of the planets and the stars. I don't know why it would or wouldn't really but just seemed a little far fetched.

Then again, when I think about it, the whole idea of planets and stars is a little strange. I'm glad they are there mind you but if I had been making stuff I don't know that I'd have put them out there like that. It's kind of like whether you texture and paint the ceiling or paper it and if you do paint it then what color.

Can you tell we're remodeling?

But I happened across my own sign description the other day, online of course, and a lot of it is spot on about me. So maybe there's something to it. Either way it is fascinating to read these descriptions. It definitely reminds me of the personality type systems we learned about in our premarital counseling. We humans like to organize and categorize things.

My sign is cancer which is not a very nice name given the medical connotations. And apparently cancers can expect to have trouble with breast cancer according to what I read. But cancer the condition doesn't have to do with cancer the sign. The symbol looks kind of like a sideways 69 to me except it is reversed kind of. I think it is supposed to represent a Crab because that's the animal that is associated with my sign.

My planet is the moon. Except the moon isn't a planet but they call it one anyway. And I've always liked the moon.

My color is silver or really any Moon colors. And that's funny because the other day Judy and I were talking about what our favorite colors were. She asked me mine and I thought a minute and I said "white is my favorite color" and she said "White isn't a color." But I said "Well, I have more white shirts so I think it must be white" but I see what you mean about it not being a color. And in physics of course white is all the colors combined. But I don't think that really mattered because if someone asks you what color shirt you have on then you say "white" if it is a white shirt. But I was surprised to see that my astrological color is silver because that's pretty close to white.

My star stone which is different from my birth stone is Pearl. My birth stone is Ruby. I don't have any of either so I guess I should try and find something to wear.

Here's what I read about Cancer's personality:

The Cancerian has many potential faults. They can be untidy, sulky, devious, moody, inclined to self-pity because of an inferiority complex, brood on insults (very often imagined), yet are easily flattered. They can be tactless and difficult yet, because they are normally ambitious, they will curry favor by floating with majority opinions, outlooks and fashions of the day. As a result they often change their opinions and loyalties and, indeed, their occupations, and lack stability. They are easily corrupted.
Good Lord!! That's me to a T, sometimes at least. Here's another example:
Physically they are average to below average in height, with a fleshy body and short legs in comparison with the rest of them. Their hair is usually brown, their faces round, their complexions pale, their foreheads prominent, their eyes small and blue or gray in color, their noses short, perhaps upturned, and their mouths full. They sometimes walk clumsily.
Again, that's me!! Some of the other stuff was spot on, too. Some wasn't so true either.

Anyway I found it interesting.

I was looking at this site: Astrology Online

My sign wasn't very compatible with Judy's sign although we seem to be getting along well.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008


I bought one of these things.

It is called Kindle and comes from

It was back in November when I ordered it. I've tried reading e-books before and didn't really like the experience. But those were all books that I was reading on my computer. I never did buy the Sony e-reader. It never excited me. I think mainly because it required a computer.

I decided this one might be just the ticket to get me back into reading. No computer needed. And it lets me annotate and bookmark and so on with the built-in keyboard. I like that.

So far it is great!!! Except for the cost which is expensive at $399. The books aren't so bad. I paid $9.99 or something for the one I've purchased so far.

As soon as I got it I unpacked it and turned it on. Immediately it received the rest of the instruction booklet as a download. Next I browsed around and familiarized myself with the navigation and functions. At first it was a little cumbersome but I notice that I'm much better at it now and things that seemed a little weird at first now seem quite normal. The little slider deal on the right actually is quite nice although I disliked it at first.

I decided to buy an actual book and really read it. So I chose Obsession: An Alex Delaware Novel by Jonathan Kellerman. He's one of my favorites and this volume came out last year in about March I think. I was a little busy back then so I missed it. It took about 2 minutes for the book to appear on my Kindle from the time I ordered it from Amazon. 2 minutes!!!!

I had to meet some guys over at the new house so I took my Kindle with me and read it while I was waiting. No problem with the sun glare either. And no problem with polarized lenses.

I can store a couple hundred books on it and more if I get a SanDisk. Battery life is great. It is a good size and very lightweight. Easy on the eyes, too.

I'm reading through it now. I really like this thing.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Celebration of Life

I went to a funeral the other day. It was my Ex-mother-in-law's funeral.

They asked me when I came in whether I was family or friend. I decided I must be a friend since I was no longer family. That's a little uncomfortable right up front having to make that decision. I've wondered about that before as in what difference does it make really. I'm glad I sat on the friend side though because there weren't so many people there.

The officiating pastor admitted right away that he had never met my Ex-mother-in-law. That was right after he said this was to be a celebration of her life. He said he felt like he knew her based on his conversation with her two daughters and son and one of her sisters. Both of those statements irritated me.

I think it would be better to omit the fact that you didn't know the person. You don't have to pretend you were some big buddy. But to say it right up front like that bothers me and kind of sets the wrong tone I think.

For sure don't say something so absurd that you know someone because you had a couple of brief conversations with a couple of other people. I knew her pretty well. And I can tell you for sure there's way more to her life (and anyone's life for that matter) than what you can find out in a few brief conversations.

Otherwise the pastor did a pretty good job though. He had a good, calm voice and he made the whole thing pretty good.

I told my son if he was planning my funeral someday and the preacher didn't know me then he should tell the guy to not say stupid stuff like that.

I was 16 when I met her. She was 36 then. It's hard for me to believe that she then was younger than my own children today.

She was my height but really seemed taller and had a lanky, athletic build. She was very strong, both physically and mentally. I mean she was very determined.

Her name was Paula.

It was the kind of "determined" that gets set on a person that's gone through a lot of hardship and difficulty. She was a child of the depression from rural Oklahoma. Her father was a number of things including a pretty good baseball player. But more than anything he was an alcoholic except that's today's language and back then he was just a drunk. And his family was poorer than dirt. Dirt poor was way above their status. Her mother supported the family for the most part. That and divorced and remarried the same fellow and had babies. You might guess she had problems of her own and you'd be right.

So the raising of the other six children in the family fell to Paula. At age 7 when a little girl should be doing little girl things she was doing mother things. I don't know all that she suffered. I know once she had to flee from her father who in a drunken state fired at her with a gun. I know when she was 15 or so that her mother basically sold her into a marriage that was eventually annulled. I know more but I'll keep it to myself.

Her childhood was a very difficult time, especially in rural Oklahoma.

She was married at 19 and had three little babies within a few years. Her husband took various jobs but generally drove a truck which kept him on the road and away from his family. And he made a pretty good living driving the truck. And that was at a time when pretty good livings weren't all that easy to come by.

But there were serious illnesses and accidents and grinding poverty and lots of problems for a young wife and mother to solve all on her own. And still there were the brothers and sisters she'd left behind and they all needed help from time to time and place to live and money to keep from starving. All that would be depressing enough for a well person but there were physiological issues that made it worse. Except that no one knew about things like that then and doctors didn't treat such things and if they would have treated them there was no money for it anyway.

She couldn't get things clean enough. Not her house or her car or her kids or her self no matter how hard she tried and she tried really hard, sometimes too hard. I always suspected there was more abuse behind that obsession for cleanliness but it is only speculation.

She was a survivor and a fighter and a protector. She took care of her family. She was an exceptionally loyal friend and a ferocious enemy. She was a great cook and knew how to do so many things in the kitchen. Once she and I made sausage. I didn't know how but she did and it was very good sausage. Nearly every year at Christmas she would make candy. Divinity was the kind I liked the best. It is hard to make candy. You have to stir divinity and fudge a lot. When your arm feels like it is about to fall off you are about 1/2 way done. She could stir longer than I could.

I forgot to say that she was very pretty in her youth, too.

There were so many things she could do. She was resourceful and smart and honest and loyal and oftentimes she was a lot of fun. To me, then, she had no fear and nothing but confidence. I look back and know that was not true. Back then she and her husband, who I adored and loved and respected in his own right, liked to go to one of the western clubs on occasion. They smoked and drank and had a really good time. They sometimes went with other driver couples.

There were tragedies and difficulties. Once another driver was killed and Paula and Walt were right there with them. If anyone was in the hospital they could count on Paula to help out with food or errands or kids and surely a hospital visit or several. That was true for neighbors and friends and family and acquaintances.

Sometimes we'd have these really long card games that would last into the wee hours of the morning. Or sometimes we'd play a board game. Really we'd just sit there and talk and drink coffee or something else and there would be chips and dips and food that Paula had made us.

I loved to eat breakfasts that Paula made. She made the best biscuits and gravy and there would be bacon and sausage and ham and eggs and more food than we could all eat. At supper there would be a ton of food too and we'd talk about politics or any news of the day. We were pretty spirited in our discussions.

Paula wanted more for her children than what she had. So she encouraged them in different activities. She never missed a game or event that I can think of where one of her children was performing. And when the grandchildren arrived she came to see them, too.

My own family was calm and peaceful and placid. But Paula's family was vibrant and chaotic and extraordinarily spontaneous. There were other opposites as well. My dad was a business owner and and my then-future-father-in-law was a Teamster. But we were all from the roots of rural Oklahoma and the soil.

Paula's own children had a much better childhood than did she. But it was not the childhood of TV series and literary fiction and American mythology. There's some pain they carry that's not likely to be easily assuaged.

Paula loved her pets. I mean loved them. And she had some of the smartest dogs I've ever known. I think maybe they were smarter because she loved them so much. They loved her, too.

And she could sew. She made wedding gowns and things like that. She even created her own designs and patterns when she couldn't buy what she wanted.

She loved to travel trailer. They bought the first one that first year I met her. It was a little "pop up" trailer and she packed everyone up and took off to the Grand Canyon. They were gone for like 3 weeks or something. Later on they switched to 5th Wheels and had a boat and the whole thing was longer than anything I'd want to pull, or could for that matter.

There was something about the smallness of the trailer and the environment of the parks they camped in that was good for Paula. And there were friendships that were formed that lasted nearly as long as life.

One of those trips though something happened and she became really sick and was hospitalized a long while. No one ever really knew what the problem actually was. But she never really totally recovered from that.

Her husband died in April, 2006. They were married in June, 1947 so they didn't make it quite 59 years. She's been pretty sick since then and her daughter took care of her. They built her a little place out back so she could live out there. Just the last few weeks were spent in a facility.

I loved and respected Paula. I'm glad I went to her funeral. I miss her. She was very human and I know that very well.

She was a really fine woman. She did the best she could.

Sunday, January 6, 2008


Friday night (Jan 4, 2008) I stopped by the store.

I hunted a card and found one that had a music score across the front and on the upper right was printed "US" and inside was more of the score and something about making sweet music and a place for me to write something. I thought it was appropriate because Judy is a musician and I thought she'd like it.

Then I hunted something as close as I could find to that Mighty Putty stuff that we've been watching Billy Mays advertise on TV the last several weeks. Because we've been laughing about it and how his commercials make us want to get some of the stuff. I ordered some but it won't arrive until sometime next week so this was just a symbolic stand-in.

Then I bought an already cold bottle of diet coke. Judy doesn't drink wine or beer but she will occasionally drink a little diet coke.

In the car I wrote some stuff in the card about how we'll compose a new song in our new house and stuff like that.

I just hid everything in the bag and kind of pushed it under my jacket in the back seat.

Then I picked her up from home and got four Dixie cups while she was distracted. I put those in my sack but one dropped out of my hand in the process and the wind caught it. So I had to chase a single Dixie cup across the yard in a gale force wind! Made me laugh at myself.

We stopped along the way to feed the horses. One thing about the horses is that they are always happy to see me along about feeding time.

Then we drove over to the new house. The guys had been working on removing the wall paper. It is all vinyl faced though and so the removal is a little slow going.

We got out of the car and I reached around and got my little bag. When we got to the door of the house I unlocked it and we both went inside and I placed the bag on the floor and said "Wait a minute, something I need to do." She looked at me all puzzled. I opened the storm door and locked it open with that little metal slider thing on the door closer at the top. I had imagined all this in my mind and my choreography was executed perfectly if I do say so. Then I escorted her back outside. Just outside the threshold I kind of pivoted and reached down with my right arm while holding her at the waist with my left. I lifted her off the ground which isn't much of a chore since she is so small. And I carried her back over the threshold into the new house.

She was very surprised and kind of bemused but happy, too.

Then I had her wait a second and I poured our diet coke into two Dixie cups. I handed her the card. She opened it and was all smiles which made me all smiles, too. She had to sound out the music for me. Of course I had no idea what it sounded like and still really still don't even after she hummed it.

We toasted with our diet coke by entwining arms and wishing each other much happiness and new life in our new home. We embraced and kissed.

Then, arm in arm, we went to inspect the house.

It was very sweet.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

details, the little things

I didn't capitalize on purpose. It's a little thing and a detail.

SkyGirl made me think about this the other day in a comment about a clock that a bank installed. Here's what she wrote:

Remember that fancy bank that I took video of, so impressive brick, and with the place for the clock? Well, I drove by today, and the clock was finally up, but not set, not keeping time? For some reason I thought that I would know when that Bank was open, because that clock would start ticking! But as I drove by, I saw the big Banner "We Are Open!"

I went in and told them my feelings about that, and perhpas it was an over-sight, but bad for business! HA! I think they spent 10Million Dollars on building this Bank, all Mahogany, and Slate, Marble, Chandeliers, etc, and forgot to set that Clock! LOL!
I notice this kind of thing a lot. Over at my Starbucks for instance. It is about a $1 Million building and they have like 40 people that work there or maybe more in shifts of probably 4 or 5 or 6. And the little detail that bothers me is the trash, as in they don't pick it up. Especially the trash can out at the drive through. If you can't stuff anything in that can then why bother to put it out there?

When we were building web sites for people the first thing they all wanted was an email address. In those early days we always monitored the email accounts that were established and we noticed that most of our clients would not check their email. Here they spent all this money putting up a site and they got traffic and contacts by email but they didn't answer or follow up. Made no sense to me.

Anyway just made me think.

Friday, January 4, 2008

What Does It Take To Be A Caregiver?

I asked this question the first time in early 1999 and then again in late 2001 I asked it twice more.

The first time I asked the question I had no clue whatsoever what was involved in caregiving. Except I knew that I knew squat about it and I really couldn't imagine myself nursing anyone. It wasn't about Alzheimer's then because I didn't really know about that disease.

Dad knew what he wanted which was for all of us to go home from the hospital. Well, really he wanted to go home with mom but he knew he needed me to help. He wasn't diagnosed at the time and seemed competent but a little eccentric. Mom really wasn't capable of deciding what was best for her. I told Dad that I had to get back to Dallas and he just looked at me and said "Well, you can't leave." And that was that. There was never anymore discussion.

I visited with a couple of friends about what I was contemplating. One was a Nurse turned Physicians Assistant. The other was someone who had experience as a caregiver. Both were greatly trusted and respected. I wanted to be as certain as I could be that I could provide a satisfactory level of care. And I had business responsibilities to consider. There were two social workers that also were extremely helpful to me. Then I was mainly concerned about medical knowledge and skill or, rather, my lack thereof. I didn't know enough to know the level of my own ignorance.

Of course that first time it was really up to Dad anyway. I would have failed in any kind of custody battle then so it finally came down to whether I helped him at home to take care of Mom or he was doing it without me. But I assured myself that I could learn what was necessary and I could martial enough resources to provide adequate care at home. And I did.

The next time was 2001 when Mom had broken her leg due to a fall down one of the four stairs in the house and we were in the hospital again. This time the medical responsibilities were much more demanding. But I thought I had developed a lot of knowledge and skill in 2 years. And really I had but not nearly as much as I thought. But I was more confident. So I had a little hospital operation going there at the house. Mom died though just a couple of weeks after I brought her home from the hospital. It was so hard then in so many ways.

Then it was just me and Dad and I knew then he had Alzheimer's. And that was the next time I asked. This time I tried to find out what good care for an Alzheimer's patient meant. It isn't all that easy actually to answer that question even now. There were many differing opinions. I didn't have nearly as much confidence left after Mom's death.

I looked at a lot of paid facilities. Basically I have a new appreciation for anyone working in the field regardless of where. It is really hard work and very much undervalued and not appreciated. But, even with that new attitude, I found a lot of places to be like the old TV dinners. The meals looked so yummy and inviting from the pictures printed on the boxes. But the actual meals when cooked and eaten never lived up to the hype.

Then I asked the question pretty often over the next several years. And this last year beginning in 2007 I asked it even more frequently. It seems amazing that just one year ago I was so sick myself and dad was sicker and Judy was sick and we all three were together. I called my doctor and my lawyer and they both were skiing in New Mexico and it really pissed me off.

Sometimes I am asked this question now by people who are just beginning their own caregiving.

I tell them that it is possible to learn the medical knowledge necessary and it is possible to have someone help them develop the nursing skills. And that includes stuff they can't even imagine doing now. And, yes, it means giving injections and all sorts of other stuff. And it is possible to manage the business stuff and the financial stuff and the legal stuff and all the other stuff stuff.

I tell them there is a lot more loneliness and isolation than they can understand even with me telling them about it. I tell them there are periods of extreme boredom punctuated with periods of extreme terror accompanied by physical and emotional exhaustion that exceeds what I experienced in Army Basic Training.

But as bad as all that is I tell them it can be handled. It isn't easy but it is survivable.

Then I add the BUT. And that's the grief.

It's the grief that is so difficult. Grief can't be managed. Grief is experienced. I would say it is endured except that really isn't true. Endurance makes it seem like a race or some event that if you just tough it out long enough it will end. That's like the physical and emotional part. You endure that. But grief isn't like that. Experience is the right word. You just experience it.

And caregiving for Alzheimer's has a lot of grief. It is the gift of grief that keeps on giving. You experience the loss of one thing and then it returns only to be lost and grieved all over again. There is loss followed by loss. Then something happens that makes you even wonder if it is Alzheimer's and there is this kind of cruel hope that supplants the grief for a bit. Except that there is this nagging doubt in your mind. Then the loss reoccurs and the doubt is promoted to certitude. The disease does not disappoint in this regard. If the one thing is not lost then something else is.

And that's only the grief of loss for the patient and you. There's a whole different grief for other people who are also victims. They are either victims by virtue of their own relationship with the patient or with the caregiver. But they experience the loss and you get to grieve that right along with them. And there is nothing you can do about it. Not one thing. And the sooner you learn that lesson the better off you are except it is a lesson you can't really ever learn.

So what's my point you might ask? Well, it is that the main thing you have to be willing to do if you want to be a caregiver for a loved one is experience grief.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Solving Problems

I am interested in how people solve problems. I've posted about problem solving before in Insight and Instructions and probably others. And other blogger friends have touched on problem solving as well. The Alzheimer's forums are full of shared ideas on solving one problem or another because there are many problems to be solved when caring for someone with Alzheimer's.

When I feed the horses I am reminded of an example of problem solving excellence. We have these two polypropylene feeders that we put the oats in. A long while back the feeders were just sitting out in the corral. The horses get pretty excited when it is time to eat and they are large and pretty rambunctious. And Judy and her mom are both pretty small. Judy's niece was visiting one day and became worried about her aunt and grandmother entering the corral to feed the horses. So she thought about it and conceived a simple solution. She hauled those feeders up to the fence, tied them there with bailing wire, and filled some large trash cans outside the corral with oats. This allowed anyone to feed the horses without entering the corral. Then once they are occupied eating it is safe to fill the water tank. Pretty darn good solution.

Now I had fed the horses myself on several occasions when the feeders were out there in the corral. And I had noticed that the horses were pretty excited when it was time to eat. In fact they are pretty funny about it. And I also worried about the two tiny women going into the corral at the same time. But I never really thought about moving the feeders.

I suppose I didn't really consider it to even be a problem that required solving. I just kept doing what was being done before while vaguely recognizing there were risks.

I remember this psychological test that I read about once. Several people were individually given some donut shaped, plastic rings and taken to a room where there was a line drawn on the floor and about 10' from the line was a vertical rod. The participants were taken to the line and told to place as many rings on the rod as possible in a certain amount of time and then left alone. Roughly half of the people tried to toss the rings onto the rod from the line. They'd retrieve the misses, return to the line, and keep trying until all the rings were on the rod or they ran out of time. The other half just walked over to the rod and placed the rings on it all at once. This was presented as an example of "thinking outside the box."

And I really admire the ingenuity and determination of both groups. But I do really wonder why one assumes they have to remain at the line and the other doesn't.

Another "thinking outside the box" example a lot of people have seen is the one where there are 9 points arranged on a page in 3 rows by 3 columns. Then you are supposed to connect the 9 points with 4 straight lines without lifting your pencil. Turns out there are several surprising solutions to this one.

Thinking outside the box - a good thing - a very good thing - as Martha might say.

Two things occur to me about problem solving. The first is that it is really easy to fail to see that a problem exists. There are so many examples where otherwise good, intelligent people have just continued doing the same old stuff over and over and not even noticed that there was a problem. That's where it is good to get some more participation especially of other people who are a bit outside the task at hand.

The second thing is to be willing to solicit advice and take it from a good cross-section of people. Good solutions don't necessarily have to come only from experts in a field. In fact the experts may be too close to the subject to really get outside the box.

If I had the opportunity to convince young children of one thing I think I might use the opportunity to tell them that their opinion counts and they might just be the one person to see the problem or maybe to see the best solution.

Musings about solving problems.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

1968 Orange Bowl

That's me 40 years ago - nearly to the day.

My parents let me, along with 4 friends, drive to the Orange Bowl in 1968. Beats me what our parents were thinking. One of those friends found this photo not too long ago and shared it with me.

The photo actually has more people in it but in the interest of preserving the dignity and privacy of the innocent (or not) I have cropped the image.

We had 2 red cowboy hats and took turns wearing them. I guess it was my turn in this photo. I don't have a clue why.

And, of course, I have something in my pocket. Wouldn't want to be unprepared. Don't know what it is either. Surely I didn't take my pocket K & E Slide Rule with me although I had one at this time in my life. But the slide rule was on its way out in 1968.

This was my first big trip out of state. I was 19 still. I am so young looking even to me. I really wanted to see the ocean because I had never seen it except in movies and on TV shows. So as soon as we got to Miami Beach we drove around until we found a public access beach. I ran out on the sand in my bare feet and stepped in some tar that had washed up.

But the ocean was everything I had expected and more. It was just so amazing standing there and looking out towards the horizon and it seemed as though the ocean was higher than I was and it just went on forever. And then to swim in it and feel the salt and think about the fact that the thing extended clear across the world.

There were about a thousand times more people there in Miami than what I was accustomed to seeing. The sophistication was beyond anything I knew. Miami was legendary to me and I was so amazed at the Cuban influence and the tall buildings and the multicultural aspects of life there.

On the way down we stopped at a place in Selma, Alabama to use the phone to call home. The phone was in the "Colored"portion of the restaurant. Everything was totally segregated. Whites could go anywhere but Blacks couldn't go in places where the sign read "Whites Only." There was even a water fountain outside that had a "Whites Only" sign on it and not far from it was one that had a "Colored" sign.

Outside the restaurant and leaning up against the building there was a young guy that had a rifle cradled in his arm. He watched us get out of the car and go inside. Our car was painted and decorated for our OU Big Red football team. The Bloody Sunday part of the Montgomery March had occurred on March 21, 1965 in Selma. We were there just before New Years 1968 so just before the 3 year anniversary. We wondered if the locals thought we were outside agitators or something. Scared the crap out of us. When Deliverance (the movie) came out a few years later I always thought of our Selma experience and that guy with the rifle.

We lined up on the street to watch the Orange Bowl parade. That was kind of a big deal for us, too. Plus the weather was amazing. Dad had taken his basic training in Miami about 25 years earlier. He had told me about the weather. Maybe that's why he let me go.

Oklahoma played Tennessee that year. The score was 26 to 24 and Oklahoma won.

I was also amazed at the palm trees and the alligators. I bought a stuffed alligator and a little palm tree seedling. I finally had to toss out the stuffed alligator just a year or so ago. The kids had managed to break its tail. The little palm tree seedling I bought barely lived during the trip home and succumbed shortly after my arrival.

We all had to take our finals right after the new year and we were all poorer than poor. So we drove straight through for about 34 hours. Then we had a day or so to relax and watch the game and the next morning we drove straight through to home for another 34 hours. Then we took finals. But back then we didn't think that much of not sleeping.

I didn't know it at the time but in just a little over 3 months I would have a terrible car accident and destroy that same car we drove to Miami and nearly kill me and my long-time girl friend.

Three more months and I would celebrate my 20th birthday.

And 1 month later I would marry that very same girl.

Looking back I wonder if the marriage would have happened if the accident hadn't. I suspect not.

Events of my life often seemed so surprising and random at the time. Now I look back over 40 years and longer and see connections of one thing to another. And I'm still too close to actually have a clear perspective.

I don't want to go to work today. I'll be happy once I get there but right now I'd like to just stay home a few more days. Holidays in the middle of the week are really inconvenient.