Tuesday, January 31, 2012

It's Okay To Disagree

Monday, January 30, 2012

Declining With Dignity - from The Huffington Post

He is almost completely blind, extremely hearing-impaired and unable to walk without assistance. He is 94 years old. Eight months ago, his wife of 70 years died. After the funeral he announced his intention to move across the country to be closer to immediate family. When asked if the move would be permanent, he replied, "I'm 94 years old. I don't make long-range plans." Four months later, my father-in-law did, indeed, move from New Jersey to California.
In the best of all possible worlds, each of us would grow old in our own home and ultimately slip gently away lying in our own bed. The best of all possible worlds, we realize, reflects not reality but a shared vision of what life might someday become. For John, my father-in-law, remaining in his own home would mean isolation interrupted by three visits a day from a well-intentioned and well-paid caregiver to serve him meals he would likely eat in solitude. He has outlived almost all of his friends. He is the last of his siblings. His children and grandchildren are scattered across the country. Remaining in his New Jersey home was not a viable option.
Our next best of all possible worlds would be, we initially reasoned, for John to live with us. A quick appraisal of our floor plan indicated several flaws in the burgeoning next best of all possible plans. Since stairs are insurmountable barriers for John, he would be confined to the first floor of our home where there is no bathroom. Even if we did extensive and impractical remodeling, John would spend his Mondays through Fridays alone while we worked long days at demanding jobs. The isolation of these days would be interrupted by one if not two visits from a well-intentioned and well-paid caregiver to serve him meals he would likely eat in solitude.
We reluctantly abandoned our vision of John growing older in if not his own home, then at least surely in our home. There appeared to be no best of all possible worlds for a man practical and courageous and trusting enough to move across the country. And so it was that we began our search for an assisted living facility near our home.
There's nothing quite like "placing" an elderly family member in a "facility" to conjure up feelings of guilt and shame and anger and, yes, failure. None of those feelings was communicated to us in any way by my father-in-law. His original intention was to move into "some sort of facility." He is blessed with the financial resources necessary for such a choice. Our negative reactions were born of the stigma attached to "placing" and "facility." We forgot that what society fears it stigmatizes. And doubtless we as a society fear the incapacitations associated with growing old.
John now lives in a senior residence two miles from our home in a conservative Los Angeles suburb. Two flamboyantly attired middle-aged men, who might under different circumstances be themselves stigmatized, manage the "facility," which is licensed and tightly regulated by state and federal agencies. In addition to their flair for personal fashion, the managers have an equal flair for decorating and for throwing good old-fashioned parties. They find occasion to celebrate just about anything from birthdays to new arrival days to Fridays to calendared holidays to "Irv plays the harmonica so let's hear him" days. My father-in-law eats his meals in the communal dining room at a table with three friends. He goes to exercise class where other friends save his special hand weights for him. He attends movie matinee Wednesday even though he can't see the screen or hear most of the dialogue.
I've spent a lot of time in this "facility" over the past several months, and I've observed several constants. The first constant is that John and his cohorts take care of each other in very subtle ways. An example of this quiet caring takes place every meal at the table he shares with three friends. One friend, like John, sits in his wheel chair at the table. Another friend uses a walker and would have great difficulty arranging himself at the table if the fourth friend did not see his approach and use his foot to -- without being noticed -- position the chair for easy table access. It is possible that few people notice this constant act of caring. Perhaps not even the man receiving the assistance notices. Nevertheless, the chair is always in the right position. I've also noticed the constant power of community and, overwhelmingly, the constant turning toward life at a time when compelling evidence might dictate a different turning.
Things seemed to be going so well for John in his new home that we were understandably devastated when he began to complain. His new friend at exercise class forgot to save him his weights. The kitchen staff served his coffee at the end of lunch instead of the beginning. The musicians hired for the party didn't play any songs he knew. Careening mentally from complaint to catastrophe, we asked John if he wanted to move to another "facility."
Stunned by our question, my father-in-law replied, "Why would I want that? I like it here!"
And then we got it. John is living his life and life lived well is full of challenges and complaints and quiet caring for others. Yes, he is declining. So am I. So are you. But in his full throttle claiming all of life's vagaries, my father-in-law has forged dignity into his decline and that might truly be the best of all possible worlds.

to see the actual post go to

Sunday, January 29, 2012

A World Seen Through The Eyes of a Cold

For the past several days I've had a bad cold accompanied by a hacking cough.  My world has become cough drops and tea.  I see the world through rheumy eyes.  I pretend I'm a Basset Hound.  I shall lean on the perfect excuse for not keeping my new year's resolution of writing on this blog every day.  Of course, tomorrow or the next day I will be fine again and without an excuse.  Apologies.  We all try harder and keep stumbling ahead.
Keep reading.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Sweet Wrong Number

Last night a little after eleven my cell phone rang.  The caller's number displayed as restricted.  Since I am almost always on call for work, I answered in my typical on call fashion:

Mary:  This is Mary
Caller:  May I speak to Michelle?
Mary:  Sorry.  There's no one named Michelle here.  You must have the wrong number.
Caller:  Seriously?  There's no one named Michelle there?  Are you sure?
Mary:  I'm sure.  What number did you dial?
Caller:  (By the way, the caller is male.)  (And at this point he recited my cell phone number.)
Mary:  Wow!  That's my phone number all right.  But there's still no one named Michelle here.
Caller:  Oh, man!  This is so disappointing.  I was at a party last night and I met this amazing woman named Michelle.  I asked her for her phone number and this is the number she gave me.
Mary:  Maybe you wrote it down wrong?
Caller:  I repeated it back to her.  Oh, this is so rude.  My name is Josh.
Mary:  Hi, Josh.  I'm Mary.
Caller:  Hi Mary.  I feel so silly.  Do you think she didn't want me to call her?
Mary:  Josh, anything is possible.  Those things happen.
Caller:  Mary, could I talk to you for awhile.
Mary:  Josh, I assure you I am not the woman of your dreams.
Caller:  Oh, yeah.  I'm so sorry.  I'll say good-bye now.
Mary:  Bye, Josh.  And good luck to you.
Caller:  Thanks.  I really appreciate that.

And then he hung up and so did I.

Michelle, seriously.  Next time just tell the guy you don't want him to call you.  And by the way, I think you should have given Josh your real phone number.  He sounded like a great guy.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

An End Of The World Sunset

I left work a little early this evening -- about five o'clock.  Driving west on the 210 freeway was a most and unusual undertaking.  The entire sky was streaked red and purple.  The entire sky.  At first I thought, 'Wow.  What an amazing sunset.'  It was truly an amazing sunset.  Then I got to thinking that I had never, ever, seen a sunset like that in California.  Then I got to thinking some more that I had never, ever, seen a sunset like that in my entire life -- not even in Arizona famous for its sunsets.  Then, of course, I got to thinking that such sunsets can only herald the end of the world.  Then I got to thinking that this sunset must be what living on Mars looks like all the time.  And then I remembered that something is going on with the sun (or went on with the sun early this morning) which caused Delta Airlines to cancel some of its high flying flights (or rather some of its higher flying flights because presumably most of its flights fly high).  And then I thought, "Okay.  We'll all probably survive this sunset."
So then I just appreciated it and then I was home.
Welcome to my world where a fantastic sunset is never just a fantastic sunset.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

More Lessons Learned From The Basset

In the scheme of things and compared to most representatives of the dog world, Basset Hounds are different in appearance.  I say that with all admiration and kindness but come on.  The Basset Hound does not exhibit the characteristics we might look for if we, for example, went looking for a big, handsome brute of a dog.
Here's the thing, though.
Basset Hounds feel really good about themselves.  They may have many deficits or behaviors that many might label deficits (stubborn and the aforementioned lack of any Alpha dog awareness, for example) but self esteem or positive self image is not among them.
So the lesson learned?
Why should I care what other people might think of how I look or how I behave?  My Basset Hound doesn't give a shit so neither should I.
In the future, therefore, I will try to nurture my inner Basset Hound and feel really good about myself.

We don't get it either.

I've been sitting downstairs reading, and the boy's been playing (noisily) in his room. The radio was on, but I wasn't really paying attention to what was on, and I didn't assume Niko was either. Then, about midway through "Maggie May," I noticed it had gotten quiet upstairs. When the song ended, Niko shouted down, "I don't get it! Does he like her, or does he hate her?" Welcome to the world, my boy. Welcome to the world.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Come On, Paula

On the ‘Today Show’ this morning, Paula Deen, the dietary-demon who built her career by trying to kill us with such epicurean-evils as “Chocolate-Dipped Bacon-Wrapped Deep-Fried Butter Balls,” shocked the world with some news. Not the unsurprising part about having had Type-2 Diabetes “for years,” but the soul-shocking news that she’s signed a multi-million dollar contract to promote diabetes treatment drugs for Novo Nordisk. I expect she’ll be introducing a recipe for “Butterfat Krispy-Kreme Insulin Shakes” any day now. Just for the record, please note that I’m not making a joke about the horrible disease “Diabetes.” I just wish that this sort of irresponsible, life-threatening hypocrisy was prosecutable.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Inside the Basset Brain

For a little over six months I have lived in the company of a Basset Hound.  When first I entered this new reality I made the assumption I would be sharing my life with a dog.  You know the species.  They love to please since they are man's/woman's best friend.  They can be trained to do things like sit or come on command.  That sort of stuff.
I must confess that the first five or so months were more often than not frustrating.
Until one day I realized like a so the world isn't flat sort of enlightenment that I wasn't living with a dog at all.  I was living with a Basset Hound.
Here, then, is my quick summary of Basset Hound life.
Basset Hounds reject the notion of Alpha Dog.  They are happiest in a leaderless, formless amalgamation of dog.  I should have figured this out at the Southern California Basset Hound Picnic during which I attended an obedience demonstration.  After saying 'come' to her Basset Hound the ersatz human Alpha Dog waited a good ten minutes before her Hound finally wandered in her direction.  No other attendee expected more or less.  Silly me.  I simply assumed that I had not heard correctly and was actually attended a demonstration on disobedience.  I now have a clearer understanding.
Understanding their rejection of Alpha Dog leads me to my next insight.  Basset Hounds have no aggressive urges.  They are amiable traveling companions with no expectations of the journey's purpose.
And while they travel, Basset Hounds have no need to mark their territories.  They are not land owners.  Walking a Basset Hound, then, is as unpredictable as using Curious George for guidance.  The Basset Hound follows its nose as far as the leash allows.
Now that I've given up all dog like expectations Bradford and I get along much better.
I will keep you posted as I delve deeper and deeper into the Basset Hound psyche unless, of course, I've plumbed its depths as far as they go.  In which case I will just have to make stuff up.
Whatever the case, I will keep you posted.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Dreaming On

Here we are almost two weeks into the new year and already those earnest and so well intentioned resolutions are collecting dust somewhere on the back shelf of that weird kitchen cupboard next to the dishwasher that no one except a person with arms four feet long, eyes on springs, and a flashlight for a nose could ever find or reach. We're wondering why we wasted our time creating them!
But wait.
Even if they just sit on that shelf and collect dust, their creation was far from a waste of time. Resolutions are restatements of hopes and dreams and those are important things to restate and revisit because if we don't we're apt to lose track of them.
Okay. Maybe I won't walk three miles a day every day for the next year. But my resolution to do so reminds me that exercise is important to me.
So don't worry about that weird shelf. Let the resolutions lie.
Here's what's important.
Hang on to the hopes and the dreams regardless of how far fetched they may seem or how many people tell us to forget them.
Our dreams nourish and define us.  They matter.  So do we.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Quality Time In The Park

Yesterday afternoon, I took the boy to the playground and was sitting on a bench watching him engage in some fairly ridiculous nonsense, when one of the parents asked, "Which one's yours?" I scanned the bustling crowd of screaming kids, noticed that Niko was being the zombie they were all running from, and replied, "I don't know, I haven’t picked one out yet!" After staring at me for a moment, she became more insistent and said, "No, really."

Monday, January 9, 2012

It's not the hair that makes the man.

His hair started falling out about 6 months ago, at the time it was one "spot." Over time it spread, no longer was it "localized" it became "generalized." It was significant enough that other kids at his school started to ask him about it. Recently he turned 13 years old, kind of a cruddy time in life to be in the throws of an autoimmune disorder that causes Alopecia. Over the recent Holiday, he had two weeks off from school, and decided that it was time "to just buzz it." Today he returned to school. He refused a ride to school, he refused to have his mom or dad contact the principal to see if he could wear a hat, "I just need to do this dad" he said. We text back and forth several times, until he told me, "i'm in dad, I'm good." When I got home from work we talked, "everybody asked what the deal was, I just told them the truth, ya know my hair was falling out and I had it buzzed." Now admittedly he was a little annoyed with the repeated questions about the "buzz", but stuck to his script. I did a little economics with him and talked about the law of diminishing returns and that people will be less interested in his hair as the week progresses and move on to other things, "I know dad." I could not imagine having the guts, grace and the uncanny ability to compartmentalize like this kid has...at 13, cool kid, think I'll keep him.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The R In The Circle

A week ago, Niko asked what the little "R" in the circle means. I did my best to explain what a registered trademark is. But, I think cost projections for his education just rose dramatically. He's in his room playing, and I just heard this discussion take place between, I suppose, Batman & Robin; "That was Jokah, after him!" "Wait, who did you say it was?" "Jokah, he just robbed the bank." "You mean 'Joker'." "No, 'Joker' is trademarked. That was 'Jokah'. Go get him." "Who's 'Jokah'?" "He's a bad guy like 'Joker', but we can get sued if we say 'Joker'." "Oh, OK, Which way did he go?"

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Not As Funny As I Thought

I looked at the ad on the back page of this week's Jewish Journal, and saw that one of the major Jewish mortuaries in Los Angeles is offering a new service. It read, "Being with family and friends during one of the most difficult times is important. Now with Live Streaming loved ones are able to attend the service even if the distance is too great."

At first I thought that was pretty over-the-top. The Other Family Human and I joked about people responding to news of an impending funeral by saying, "Eh, no, I'm busy that day; I'll just TIVO it". Then I remembered a couple of situations of our own. A dear member of our family died last summer and circumstances made it impossible for us to fly the 3000 miles necessary to attend the funeral. Instead, we were able to set up a Skype call which allowed us to participate in the shiva minyan that evening. We had felt really cut off from the proceedings and this connection made us feel great. I also remembered that, about six years ago, I had officiated at the baby naming of a child whose uncle was 3000 miles away and unable to attend. This was before the days of Skype, but they were able to set up a webcam system that allowed him to see his niece's naming ceremony. The Other Family Human was taking pictures at the ceremony, and took one of every attendee, including one of the computer screen with the uncle's image on it.

There really are times when you want to be there but can't. So, you use technology to do the best you can instead. Not so funny after all.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Wine Tasting 101

I got my homework back from my “Wine Tasting 101” class (another one of those Living Social deals). We were supposed to list some of the adjectives we’ve used to describe wine. Clearly, the instructor disapproves of my humor, as there were thick red lines drawn through “Winey,” “Flatulent,” “Bootylicious,” “Curdled,” Busty,” “Ranch-style,” "Doable," “Circumcised,” “Ridonkulous,” and “Deep-dish” (I wasn’t spitting mine into the bucket the night we did this assignment).

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Election Night Special

Monty Python restores sanity to the situation, as always.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Not Another Resolution, Exactly

But something to consider at any rate.  Possibly more fun than wearing purple all the time, if you get my drift.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Time To Begin Again

Well, I was going to start my list of resolutions with a promise to only say nice things about people this year, but I was afraid that might be misinterpreted as a vow of silence. So, here’s the rest of the list:
1. Watch more cute and cuddly kitten videos on YouTube (need to start with the more easily attainable one).
2. Eliminate four of my seven email accounts, and start checking my work e-mail... account at least once a month.
3. Gain enough weight to get on “The Biggest Loser” (Note to self: Start buttering my doughnuts).
4. I won’t confuse my New Year's resolutions and my bucket list and do a bunch of stuff I meant to do when I'm old like I did last year.
5. I won’t buy into the hype that New Year's is just a holiday created by calendar companies who don't want you reusing last year's calendar, and I will refuse to start the year off using the commercialized, PC expression, “Happy X-Year.”
6. Stop hanging out with people who are likely to ask me how I’m doing with my list of resolutions.
Happy New Year! You all make it worth the trouble.