Thursday, December 31, 2009

Back to Our Regular Programming

"Hullo!" My dad said strongly.

"How are you this morning?" I asked.

"Better. I haven't got my paper, but it's time. I'll go get it."

"Do I need to come over there and tidy things up before the lady comes to give you your bath? I'm going to play tennis at nine."

"No. I have it all in good shape."

If you saw him bending over his fancy walker (seat, hand brakes, wheels, grabber at the ready), you'd think he needed help. But he says he doesn't. Says he doesn't even have a need for any groceries or supplies.

I'm proud. I'm a little dubious, too. Of course, we had to go over yesterday to get the garbage can put up. He can't handle that. He'll have to be driven to the doctor. He can no longer handle all the check-writing, organization, paperwork. He will need groceries soon enough, phone calls made and, sadly, even some physical help again in the future. But he is making a valiant attempt at independence, such as it is.

This must be what people feel like when the kid goes off to college and moves into an apartment and says, "No, Mom. I'm fine. My roommates and I are making dinner. I opened a checking account. I got the oil changed in my car."

My dad used to take care of many more things than he does now. He will probably never drive again. (Although I'm sure he's dreaming of being able to do so.) He probably won't be gardening outside or even repotting giant ferns on his porch or filling bird feeders.

But he is grasping at his independence. Managing his medical needs complicated by his illness. Taking his own drugs. So many of the Medicare home health people asked "do you have a pill sorter?" And I had to laugh because we had one because it helped my niece and I organize his pills. He used to dose himself and write it in a little notebook. When we were 'responsible' he kept saying "aren't you supposed to get me my pills?"

Don't get me wrong. It's been a rough couple of months. For one week he was home and I was afraid to leave him for even a second because he couldn't safely go to the toilet or empty his catheter or clean up or change his clothes. Four and a half days of that week, I was there except for an hour or so and then Forrest hung around for safety's sake, vacuuming for something to do. My aunts came to relieve me at night for a few days and then my niece and her family drove a thousand miles to be there so he didn't have to be alone.

Maybe now that he can be alone, he's reveling in it. He was always an independent guy who didn't mind some alone time and said so. We aren't out of the woods yet, as they say, because at 93 you are lost in the woods no matter what, but we have entered a new phase. I might be able to start planning a vacation. Of course, you never know the interruptions you'll have from the old folks' needs. (FFP has his parents, too, 90 and 99.) But we'll take it day-by-day. And I have to figure out what to do with my time with myself and my activities taking the front row for the moment.

[Took the photo at Let's Dish on South Lamar when FFP and I went there yesterday. We were taking in a movie at the Alamo Drafthouse. In the afternoon. Just like retired people are supposed to be able to do.]

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Wrapping Up

As the new year approaches, it's time to wrap up the holidays.

It's time to put away the box of left over cards from our holiday mailing. When we moved I found lots of these stuck away here and there. I saved a few examples and recycled the rest. For the record I think I only used shop window reflections in one holiday card. I think the shop window on that card was in Paris, not that you could tell. I am extremely enamored of today's shot (not in Paris but on Second Street) because the tree and my hair seem to spike together although I could wish my hair was spiking more as here and here. But I digress.

It's time to figure out how to dispose of the cards and 'year in review' letters we received. The stack weighs a little over two pounds. All envelopes save two have been discarded (after checking any address info against the data base). One I haven't yet discarded ihas some lovely stamps from South Africa and the other has a Gary Cooper stamp (card sent by a guy who is named Gary Cooper but is not the long-dead actor).

I counted 104 cards. We probably sent a little over twice that many. Forty-eight included some sort of handwritten note beyond just a name or Merry Christmas. Twenty-eight wished us 'Merry Christmas' but only a handful had an overtly religious theme like a Bible Verse or the Wise Men. Not one Baby Jesus. Forty-one had family pictures, thirty-two with children (of all ages, among our demo if they were young kids they were often grands). Eleven included the family dogs. Wishes for Joy (15) , Peace (16) , Hope (3) and Love (14) appeared. Ten featured, primarily, snow. We don't get much here. There were the usual appearances of toys, packages, trees, stars, ornaments, penguins, Santas, flowers, birds, angels, sleds, holly, wreaths, doves, stockings, etc. Only two had a Southwestern theme. I didn't count how much UT regalia appeared but there was some. Odd one off examples featured a map of Africa with little children angels, a cartoon cat band, a cartoon hippo band and a painting by the sender's grandfather of a landscape.

All in all, a delight, were these cards. But now what do I do with a two-pound stack of board, paper, glitter and other odd material? I'll review them one more time, cursing the glitter, toss the paper in recycling, save a few cards for future decor and toss most of the family pictures and glittery, printed, maybe die-cut board.

For presents I received money and several books and some candy. FFP and I got some fine wine from a friend. We received some homemade zucchini bread and cookies. Less is more. I'm dying to find a moment to sit down and read the books. (While eating candy and cookies and drinking wine?) I gave money, mostly, plus some toys and games to young kids and iPod Touches (in spite of my disgust with Apple) to older 'kids.' I gave champagne, whiskey and wine. I gave my Dad a book showing pictures of him beginning with himself as a boy and including one with he and my sister and me as a baby and then others along the way including one of him with each grandkid and great grandkid as babies. I didn't mean it to be his present (and only present) but he liked it so much that it worked out. He showed it to friends and to the strangers doing home health. I usually give him a book but he hasn't been reading many books of late.

The year is almost gone. Normally I'm tempted to make resolutions. But not this year. Not even snide or silly ones. Not even grand and lovely ones. Whatever happens, happens. The year 2009 taught me that. I plan to start trying to organized for tax season, get my Dad situated in his new, alive but with some struggles, mode. I hope to plan some travels, do some writing, get my computer situation more stable. Clean, organize, discard, repeat. Do some tennis, exercise. Eat and drink. Well, maybe not drink SO much. Same old routine with verve (I hope). After losing five pounds the wrong way (stress) I make no resolution on weight loss. Whatever happens in 2010 will have me along for the ride. Doing chores. Making lists, checking things off them. If I feel the need for resolutions, I'll go to the well of past blogs and journals. Just recycle an old list.

Soon it's 2010. Whoop. Another day, another year. I'm still here, perhaps, and so, dear reader are you.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Days Slip Away

Days slip away, but some little mementos yank us back to another time and place. Today's Holidailies writing prompt is "Tell us a story behind that thing hanging on your wall over there."

I glanced to my right and there was a little memento box with three things framed and matted: a picture, set of three business check book receipts and a hand-written receipt.

The picture shows yours truly in 1977 along with my husband of less than a year (FFP). We both have long hair. We're posing lugging a box up the steps of a house where we lived together for over a year (he'd owned it since '72) and where he started a little advertising business called Good Right Arm. The box? It is a brand new electric typewriter. The check stubs record checks 101 through 103 and are for purchases of stationery (second sheets), business letterhead and an initial deposit on a phone answering service. The receipt is for the typewriter which used fancy ribbon cartridges and for a supply of the cartridges. That was the beginning of the business. FFP ramped it up to a full-service agency and ran it until 2005 when he eased back to a copy writing service like when he began. Only now he does only what he wants to do, writing articles for local publications.

I would have exhibited the memento here instead of yet another shop window reflection self portrait but I think the glare would spoil the fun of describing it. We used a tiny bedroom in that first house for an office for the first few months and then we moved a block away on the other side of the street and lived there for 31 years.

I'm not sure what made us decide to frame the stuff. Probably at some point, winnowing records we decided to save these first things and we had the picture, shot by a friend visiting us from Dallas sitting around in another frame for years on the mantle. FFP decided to preserve it this way. Just now, unaware of what I was writing over here, he was beside it, disconnecting his iPhone from the charger and he said something about what young kids we were. Indeed, we were 28 and 30. Amazing.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Fragile and Fleeting

This gone now.

Life is fragile and fleeting. Even the most solid things turn out to be ephemeral or change before our eyes. We are the most fragile thing in the landscape, though. Well, except for certain other living creatures.

This is a change I embrace. Really. Except, of course, when it takes my body down an inexorable hill and takes my friends and family away forever, here and there, randomly.

I'm writing this because I like the words ephemeral and inexorable. Not really. But I do like them. I wonder when I learned them. Did I find them in an article in The New Yorker? And run to the 'old school' paper and board dictionary (my favorite American Heritage one that I had several editions of?) to see the definition. Why have these words stuck in my head and left me confident of theirs definitions when words like jeremiad always send me back to the dictionary (premier, twenty bucks a year)?

Seeing my dad's decline, reviewing say the last seven years since my mom died, makes me realize how you lose things, bit by bit and step by step. One day you can, the next day you really can't, you rehab but don't come all the way back.

And yet, we can build up. I haven't exercised enough the last two months, too entrapped in my dad's illness and my own sloth while sitting around with him in hospitals, at home, waiting to do what he needs. When I get back into my program, my stamina and muscle tone will improve. Indeed, the simple home PT my dad is getting is helping him make gains back. Against the grain, improvement while declining.

We improve, we slip, we slide. It's over. It's enough to make you eat good food, drink good wine, have a cocktail or two, listen to music and do frivolous things. And...when I've escaped the care-giving mode? That's just what I've done. And I've only managed to feel a little guilty about it.

Today's shop window reflection self-portrait is intended to convey the fleeting and fragile feeling (very alliterative!) and was taken Saturday at the wonderful Mercury gift shop on Second Street.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Something about the Season

Detail from Black and Blue Christmas Shop Window at Black Mail on South Congress.

We all have fond memories of holidays. Special times, special meals, special presents. I talked to my niece yesterday and she said her older boys were very happy because they got 'almost everything' on their (admittedly short) lists. They told her they would have to write their 'thank you' notes. She always prints pictures of them playing and they write something to us far away gift-givers.

But sometimes things happen that make the holidays a difficult time for memories. My cousin's wife lost her sister Christmas night after a car crash caused by a drunk driver earlier in the week. It will be hard not to remember that when subsequent holidays come around.

Christmas 2001 was my mother's last. In fact, she was hospitalized right before Christmas but they missed diagnosing her cancer then and it went untreated another five months. I see her in my mind looking game for celebration in her Santa wear but looking, frankly, ill. Sometimes this shoves aside memories of her, vigorous in her celebration, like the year she whipped up personalized stockings for all of us including my sister's kids and three kids of my cousin's. I had to make a trip to Sears on Christmas Eve for a sewing machine needle. Yeah, that last Christmas, fighting an unknown foe, shoves aside images of her gamely making homemade decoration, getting down on the floor to play with kids and then grand kids, cooking enormous meals for a dozen or more people in her small house.

This Christmas weighed on me, too. Dad perhaps recovering but with a pretty unknown future. We had a welcome visit from my aunt, my dad's youngest sister, and her husband. They were at loose ends because for many years they visited another sister of his in West Texas. But she died in February.

Life goes and on and around holidays things happen just the same as other days. My mother died in August. On her sister's birthday. I had to call and tell her sister that day. She had the same birthday as her brother, too. But he was already gone. I don't remember when he died. But maybe his children do and it colors a certain time of the year.

I just watched a pastische of the year's deaths on CBS Sunday Morning. Sure, Michael Jackson and Ted Kennedy died and maybe you'll remember 2009 for it. Walter Chronkite, too. I was thinking about Jeanne-Claude who with her verve and business acumen created art with Christo. I enjoyed two of the works in person (Wrapped Reichstag and The Gates in Central Park) and wonder if Christo can create that magic again, without her.

The two Christmases we have spent in the condo have been made low-key and even sad by the decline of our parents. Maybe sadder for me than for them even. But at my niece's house there were four young kids and excitement and celebration. And different memories of 2009.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

My Point of View

Looking for inspiration this morning I looked at Holidailies prompts and one was 'five years ago.' I didn't get too inspired about old journals from 2004 so I went to 2005 and was paging through December when I came across this:

I realized that I had a conversation snippet with my dad that he's repeated several times lately. After he said he wouldn't go to water aerobics, he said, "You go get some exercise and stay in shape. You have to outlive me so you can look after me."

"Yeah, after you're gone you don't care."

"Ha. No."

Is that just a conversation thing he sticks in or is he really worried something will happen to me?

That Christmas four years ago I was just worried about Dad not being lonely. He could take care of himself mostly. He drove. He had problems I'm sure but he dealt with them without a lot of oversight from me. Things are different now. I'm four years older. I haven't taken care of myself that well and show no enthusiasm for doing so. My dad and I are somewhat at odds over things in this new era where he needs a strong, available caregiver and I don't feel strong and I resent being available. The last four years have been very unkind to Dad and they haven't treated me all that well either! It will be interesting to see how I feel on the day after Christmas, 2010. Perhaps Holidailies will return and I'll remember to check in with my feelings then.

[Photo is me reflected in the window of the sales center for the W condos, with part of the model building.]

Friday, December 25, 2009

It's That Piggy Time of the Year

Today's Holidailies Writing Prompt is "Tell us why/how you started the website where you're participating for Holidailies." I haven't done much writing from prompts this Holidailies season, rather I have been making up my own little topics for discussion and diatribe.

Why did I start this Blogger home for drivel or its predecessor, a blog I coded up myself with the help of an HTML editor, available still (with occasional missing pictures and broken links) at

It was a spot to capture my unique walk through the world, to reach out across miles to friends and strangers and across time to myself. I bet no one refers to my old blog entries as much as I do. Trying to find a certain image or confirm when or how something happened. Sometimes I regret not keeping records even more meticulously. For a while I recorded everything I ate, all the exercise I did and a fairly thorough chronology of how the day went. This is all quite useful in retrospect for, ahem, research but entirely too tedious for me in my current mindset. Just posting something every day here for Holidailies and an image every day for Austin, Texas Daily Photo feels like a big responsibility. Ha.

In tribute to selfishness, the overeating time of the year and food diaries, today's picture is a shop window reflection I took yesterday in downtown Austin that I call 'Piggy Time of the Year.'

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Dazed and Confused

Strange doings on the computers, visitors at Dad's, going to a party on the wrong day, falling behind with chores, looking toward tax season (even Dad dreads it and I do the leg work for him). I haven't exercised enough. I'm in a vortex. I don't think I'll be emerging any time soon. And it's my own fault. Because instead of working assiduously on my computer issues, Dad's ongoing needs, keeping up with things, chores and getting some exercise, what do I do? I find myself messing around with blogs and social media and reading books and papers and working crosswords when some undemanding time arrives.

I'm never going to catch up. I'm never going to feel caught up anyway. Too much guilt. Ah, well, I think I'll cut this entry short and take a walk before we go for a (let's face it tedious) meal at my in-laws.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Best and Worst Presents

I had an impromptu dinner with a friend the other night and said to her: "Oh, there was this great gift I didn't buy you today. It was a Lego Architectural series of the Empire State Building."

"That was a great gift not to get me." She said.

See my friend collects little metal buildings of icons like the Empire State Building, Eiffel Tower, etc. Of course, these days she collects lots less of anything since she, too, moved into a small, downtown condo. And the Lego, though sleek and wonderful-looking was real off topic. (Not a metal souvenir. Something I might like better than she would, etc.) Collections can begat gifts like that. Gifts that are not, in and of themselves, stupid (like Billy Bass, but we aren't going to talk about bad gifts I've received) but just, well, not right for the person at the moment. I'd just given her the idea of the gift, a laugh. We aren't really exchanging gifts this year.

I've written before about in the Journal of Unintended Consequences (a dormant blog I intend to revive any day now) and here in this blog about the economics of gifts.

Today I'm just talking about specific things that I remember giving or getting that were especially egregious or particularly wonderful for some reason.

Some wonderful gifts I've given: a laundry basket with pop-up legs; a check to a Junior College for an extension class in loom weaving; and some iPod Touches (this season); a very tiny loose leaf Filofax (in the pre-PDA and Smartphone era); a bunch of Nissan stainless commuter cups. I can't really remember too many others that worked out so well that I gave someone. It was just the right gift at the right time to the right person. Or so it seemed. I'm sure there have been others. And many of the opposite kind.

Some wonderful gifts I've received: many books I wanted or would have if I'd known they'd existed; a Buzz Lightyear room protector; a gadget with a handle that becomes legs to hold tennis ball waist-high and is a wire cage with the wires just far enough apart to compress a tennis ball and let it in and not out.

Some truly awful gifts I've given: a talking bathroom scale; a Melita drip coffee maker; various electronics (answering machine, VCR, etc.) to my in-laws who don't do well with technology. This year, though, they ask for TV ears and FFP bought them, charged them and set them up and it seems to be going over well.

Ah, well, money, gift certificates (although they can be to the wrong place or for the wrong thing) and booze (although, you know, the right booze and for a drinker) always seem to fit.

For a couple of years in the old (big) house, FFP and I would wrap up books for each other...that we found on the shelves in the house. There were often some pleasant surprises.

To say that gift giving is fraught with peril, or was in the days before the very specific on-line wish list, is an understatement. But I do like the look of gaily-wrapped gifts.

[Picture is from 2005 when we still lived in the 'big house.' No tree but a decorated glass and wrought iron table with presents on it.] There is a large, flat present in the foreground. What in the world was in there?]

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Kitchen Confessional

I love to eat. Whether it's cheap Tex-Mex (photo: Aranda's Taqueira, 2005) or fine dining. I eat all veggies. I love steamed fresh Brussels sprouts, al dente haricots verts. Not as big a fan of English Peas. I love delicate little gourmet dishes with precious bits of sauce piped on in fanciful swirls. Foie gras? Bring it on? Your spinach, green bean or sweet potato casserole. Sure, I'll have some. Fish cooked in paper. Things expertly grilled.

I'm not a huge fan of rich desserts heavy with cream and chocolate, but sure I'll have a bite.

However. I have a phobia for cooking. Now I'll go into the kitchen. Because that's where people keep the coffee maker, the beer and the chips, jalapenos and Costco shredded cheese for nachos. Oh and fresh fruit, crackers, cheese and other snacks.

Some coffee-making is somewhat complex but I've always persevered. I'm kind of like those crack addicts delicately boiling stuff in a spoon. Not sure what's that's all about but it is obviously necessary like the methods for extracting coffee flavor into water that are essential to my addiction. We do what we have to do.

I can also boil water. I'm uncomfortable if you want me to then add pasta but I will boil eggs. My technique: put eggs in salted, cold water. Bring to boil. Turn off heat, cover and leave for 15 minutes. Cool in running water. Peel. I'll save my recipes for deviled egg variations for another day.

But about those deviled eggs. Yeah. Chopping and mixing aren't so bad. My resistance arises when heat and timings and butchering and carving and all that are mentioned. With deviled eggs if you get the eggs cooked and the halves neatly divested of the yolks (start with extras because some will be failures) then you just have to mix whatever with the yolks and put some of the mixture back in the halves. Chopping, mixing, but no more application of heat, no turning, flipping, etc.

God forbid you want me to do baking where things have to rise and be mixed in proper proportions, etc. Better a skillet saute dinner where things can just flow and you can see the onions become translucent.

I like to stand in the kitchen and chop things. Onions even.

And I don't mind a mess. Come to my kitchen. Make a mess in my kitchen making something wonderful and I'll clean it up without a whimper.

The truth is that cooking is hard work. And some of it is exacting: baking, handling meat, etc. Souffles? Ha. And if you have the means you simply have to walk in some place and look at the menu. Last night I had a wonderful seafood risotto (Bess). But I would never, ever make one. At lunch yesterday (posole and a Southwestern Caesar at Mirabelle) and my companion mentioned buying the same corn used to make polenta at Enoteca for himself for a Christmas Eve dinner and for a friend as a present. And I was thinking, "I think I'll go to Enoteca and have polenta!"

I get that if you don't have the money, you have to cook. Been there. Skillet dinners, pot of beans, salads (chopping only). And always lots of things you eat without prep.

Yes, I confess, I have major phobias in the kitchen. And this time of year I have to say: "I don't cook turkey! Ever."

There, I got that off my chest.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Cure

The picture? The window of a tanning salon in France, 2004. The subject of the day? Medical care, medical insurance, reform, cures, old age.

There has been massive talk of 'health care reform' for months. It has mostly been about insurance and not so much about care. Except that to pretend pay for insuring more people they are planning to slash reimbursements for things like Medicare home health. Which will allegedly make the deliverers of this care more efficient. Only it may drive them out of business, drive the elderly into homes and put the people employed by these services out of work. But maybe they'll have insurance. Each little bit of legislation has its consequences. It's a messy machine of moving parts.

I'm unsure what Nebraska has been given to insure one Senator's vote, but I'm pretty sure health care is different in every state but shouldn't be legislated that way.

After almost two months of Dad's latest health crisis I have some opinions about the delivery of health care and Medicare. I think the doctors have done a pretty good job saving Dad's life. The quality of his life is compromised by side effects and old age. But he has come back miraculously to the point of doing a pretty good job of chores, cooking breakfast, reheating other meals. He even worked some laundry although he wanted me to fold. Everyone, though, comes to their job in his recovery from a different angle. Some nurses see a shift at the hospital as a series of chores...start an IV, find another nurse to verify starting a blood unit, etc. Some nurses see a patient and try to anticipate what things they can do to move the patient toward a better outcome. Some doctors edged away from a patient threatening to die despite their best efforts. Others stood up with the patient and hard choices. Everyone involved asked what drugs he took a thousand times. Some nurses would condescend one minute (acting like you knew nothing about the patient or health) and expect the family to perform nursing duties perfectly the next. Home health from Medicare was helpful to a point. The occupational therapy evaluation was unnecessary but by the book. The bathing assistance was very helpful. The home health nurse covered the same ground over and over (by the book). Honestly, my dad is now capable of living alone with intermittent assistance. If the paper boy would put the paper on the porch and someone brought food and supplies occasionally and did a few chores that hurt his back, he would survive between times to be driven to appointments. For now.

What will the 'reform' wending its way through Congress bring for us? Will some of Dad's providers quit seeing Medicare patients? Will home health disappear sending him into a facility should there be another crisis? Will my high deductible insurance that we currently just use to wangle lower prices from providers disappear? Or cost lots more?

I don't know any of these answers. But I do know three things. There is no cure for old age and death will come for all of us. And, for now, my dad is perfectly capable of soldiering on...with a little extra help, not a lot. And this health care reform might get more people insurance but the care they receive? It won't be reformed by this legislation except due to unintended consequences.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Does Santa Need a Makeover?

One of the Holidailies writing prompts was "Tired of Santa? Create your own iconic magical figure for the holidays." Writing prompts are magical things. If great lit doesn't leap from your fingers, at least they tend to trigger typing.

Actually, I love Santa. His unapologetic happiness and roundness? His willingness to be Blue or Brown (or here, Gold) Santa for some cause. His ability to bring the right gifts to everyone around the world in a few short hours. (Oh, OK sometimes he needs help from Brown and Blue Santa and the Christmas bureau.)

Nah, Santa makes me happy like nothing else this season does. And, yes, I understand he was once Kris Kringle and much less fat and jolly and was evolved to sell Coke or something. That was a good makeover. He doesn't need another. Ho, ho, ho.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

What I Wish For

I wish I were out taking a walk on a bright, cool day. I took this from the Pfluger Pedestrian bridge last Sunday. I was walking back from Zach Scott theater and I was going to meet FFP at the condo and we were going to a party that promised to be wonderful (and was). The "kids" (my 39-year-old niece and her husband and their three-year-old daughter) were still with my dad so I wasn't worried about him as much. Life felt right.

As I type this I'm sitting at my dad's. Just goofing off on the Internet at the moment. We've been sitting here discussing what help he is going to ultimately need when he finishes recovering from this illness and when/if home health is stopped. There were no big duties when I got here today. I got his paper in and that pleased him. "You get addicted to things," he said. He told the OT evaluator yesterday he didn't read much anymore. He doesn't in the way that I don't read much anymore: he reads papers and magazines but hasn't gotten around to any books lately.

My life hasn't been the way I've wanted it lately. Too much hospital and sick room. Too much worry and unknown stuff with Dad. Heck, with myself as well. Not enough exercise, not enough walks (like the one from the picture), not enough tennis. Not even enough cleaning my own apartment and doing other chores there and computer stuff. (I always long to do that stuff when I don't have the time for it.)

I've gotten away to holiday parties and some adventures with FFP in the evenings and it's been good some nights, great even. Other times I was down a little, feeling sorry for dad, angry at dad, angry at myself, feeling like a failure. Mostly, though, it's been delicious getting away, going to parties and out to eat.

I used to have a little writing exercise I did when I felt my life wasn't going my way. I would write down a perfectly imagined future, what I'd do day in/day out and week in/week out. There would be descriptions of exercise, dining, travel, shopping, creating. Then I would ask myself what parts of the life described I could have in spite of my current situation. In other words, I'd try to find time inside the real life limitations of my existence (work, chores, taking care of others, limited resources like money and time) to do things that I'd do if there were no limitations. This made me really realize how much I enjoyed, say, exercise or playing tennis or even some chores. It made me realize that if limitations were cast aside, I'd still love a fine meal and a glass or two of wine or reading the newspaper with a good cup of coffee.

Digging deeper in your desires will make you realize how much you really have already of your 'perfect' life. And it will make you make a few changes, too, because many times what you want is right there. You just have to do the things you love.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Not All There

Do you ever feel like you aren't completely present in your life? Like you are entering a new phase where you are adjusting to new realities by halting steps, sometimes one forward and several back?

That's how I feel now. I have been through ups and downs of my dad's medical condition. We seem to be settling into a situation where he is getting stronger, no longer flirting with imminent death although you never know. But he is dealing with side effects of the treatment. He is able to do some things for himself and to complain to his caregivers (me at the moment and my niece and her husband when they were here). I suspect he'll be unhappy with the hired guns that are going to be his reality after I figure out just what he needs and can afford and get some help. He is adamant that he wants to stay in the house he's in which we own but for which he's been paying all the ongoing expenses (taxes, insurance, yard maintenance, utilities, phone, cable, cleaning, etc.). Add on top of that paying caregivers to come each day and help with daily housekeeping, laundry and bathing and such and it will be expensive for him. He can afford it for a few years so why not? But the details of managing hiring and also of absorbing complaints will fall to me. It occurs to me, though, that sometimes he is a little more forgiving of the outsiders. I'm just saying.

Anyway, I feel only partially present in my life. I keep absorbing new things each day, victories and defeats. I feel like I'm in a box with various slits that let you see forward but you have to shake your head to make the images come together to make any sense of it and then you get dizzy.

I'm neglecting things I want to do in organizing my own life...getting some computer issues resolved, getting my condo cleaned and better organized, organizing taxes for 2009, etc. Sometimes I'm just sitting around at Dad's, just babysitting or waiting for the home health people to come by or doing little chores like laundry or taking out trash or tidying up. I will pull out the laptop and do things (like posting Holidailies) and Dad will mildly complain about it. When my niece and her husband were here he complained that we were always on our laptops. He didn't know what we were doing with them. I guess he thought we ought to be doing something he saw as useful all the time. Of course, the elderly are absolved to nap between bouts of watching screeching on Fox News!

When I get away, I just want to go out with FFP, read, eat decadent food, drink. In other words live the decadent life until I arrive, partially present in some further broken down future like my Dad's.

If it sounds like I'm complaining, I'm not really. I'm just trying to come to terms with my dad's reality and my own and then live that life fully. I have lots of issues to solve but lots of resources to solve them with.

One foolish pursuit I hope to have more time for in the future is the taking, editing and displaying of shop window reflections like today's and the others I've been showing during Holidailies. I think the daily exercise of writing for the Holidailies challenge has been a good thing although I'm pretty sure it has been mostly a long screed against the duty of daughterhood. Ah, well. I'm a lousy caregiver and admitting it may make me a better one...or just get that off my chest.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

You Don't Know What You've Lost

Take something away and then you appreciate it, right?

Actually, I like to think I was appreciating things right along in the moment.

I was happy to wake up every day without my hands stiff and aching. I didn't know what was coming with the hands, I guess, but I woke up feeling good and I appreciated that. My dad used to say "If people don't drink then when they wake up, that's the best they are going to feel all day long." My drinking hasn't caused an unpleasant awakening in a long time. But the hand thing has made the first thing in the morning a hangover for my fingers.

When Dad was taking care of his own needs (apart from the help we'd arranged for yard men, cleaning, handyman, errands), I appreciated that. I appreciated that other people with parental units as elderly as ours had more demanding responsibilities. (FFP's duties still center on shopping and errands, amazingly, since his folks are 99 and almost 90.) Dad is working hard after a bad six weeks to get back to virtual independence. He spent 13 days of the last six weeks in two hospital stays and had four procedures and lots of intervention and tests. He's been to doctor's offices three times and to a pre-opt visit to the hospital and another emergency room visit. He's had several visits from a home health nurse, several from a PT specialist, etc. He has an evaluation from Occupational Therapy on Friday. I figure his ability to dress himself, go to the toilet and even cook is proof that he's getting back some facility. He's dealing with a lot. And I would be lying if I didn't say I long for when he was more self-sufficient. He told me yesterday that he had his last car wreck (and subsequently gave up having a car) a year ago. I admit that when he could still safely drive a few places and do his own thing that I appreciated that. I knew it might end just as FFP's Dad gave up driving (his mother never drove) because of his poor vision and that ended a lot of their independence. (Although his parents took cabs for a long time before they felt that was too onerous after a failure to pick up at the grocery store.)

This is where we are now. My health is good if my hands are trumpeting my age. My dad is improving after the latest interventions have halted a rush to possibly fatal anemia. And I don't really know where he will land. I'm going to monitor it until after the holiday and then, if necessary, get him additional help to stay at his house as he wishes. It would be easier to go to assisted living where meals and other services would be more straightforward. But he resists it. He knows how he would feel if he lost the ability to be in his own private space. I think he felt that during his recent hospital stays.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

It's The Cheat That Counts

Gift-giving is so fraught. You wrap something up in beautiful paper (or use those ever-handy gift sacks with some bright tissue) and you imbue some object with a duty to convey your love and respect. I quit taking gifts seriously a long while ago. When someone gives me something, I thank them and move on. I give my sister and her kids and grandkids money mostly and a few actual gifts that they very specifically ask for through wish lists. My dad sends birthday and Christmas checks to people. He and his sisters exchange these checks. Seems pointless to me.

I bought a couple of calendars at Book People the other day, those page-a-day things with different themes. One I intended for a friend. We often get together with a couple of other friends over the holiday and usually exchange small gifts. I had one of these calendars in mind for her. Then when we were talking on the phone the other day she said we shouldn't buy gifts this year if we did get together. I found another person to give the calendar to and I don't object to a 'no gifts' policy being established for any group of friends or relatives. I hope such things gain a wider foothold. I thought it was ironic that I'd already picked something when she said it, though.

FFP and I often ask at Christmas and birthdays: "What do you want?" Usually we just empower the other to go out and get whatever he/she wants. Yesterday he went out and bought a guitar. He bought a shirt the other day that he's been wearing a lot. (It's festive in a Christmas way with tasteful red and green plaid.) I told him what I wanted was for him to take my car for maintenance. I've been spending so much time at Dad's and hospitals that I haven't had time to go sit and wait for my car or be without my car. He's doing that for me today. I'm waiting at Dad's to help with lunch and watch his PT appointment. So he came out here and left his car and took mine to see if he could get scheduled maintenance, oil change and such done for me.

It feels like a gift having someone else do that car errand for me. There are a couple of physical 'things' I might like to have, too, but right now it just seems like too much trouble to get new things.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Only One Guarantee

We plan and plan. Our lives and bodies break down. We rehab. But there are no guarantees.

Talk of things like banking reform and health care reform and stimulus are infused with ideals of a precious world where everyone is healthy and happy and has a good job and owns a home until they die, peacefully and suddenly in their sleep albeit they are apparently perfectly healthy, leaving their estate not to their heirs but to the government because, after all, their heirs are living the dream on their own, too.

Never mind that health care reform is really health insurance reform and is not long on ideas in any of its thousands of pages about how we might live more healthy lives until we die. We are dreaming the dream.

But life is devoid of guarantees save one. Death.

I think you should always back into health care reform. You should say 'everyone will die.' Then you should wonder what is most humane in caring for people. Should we try to eliminate heart disease, stroke, hypertension, Type II diabetes, cancer? Just how heroic should our care be when the odds are against us? When the Obama team suggested that insurance should be required to cover end-of-life counseling, that was the most sane thing I've heard in the months-long debate. When the proposal was distorted into death committees? Well, maybe we should have them. Only, of course, the bureaucracy of them would be ridiculous like most of our government-regulated health care.

Everyone plans to live, get healthier and richer. This striving is not bad, in and of itself, but a realistic look at the march of time might help us make better, more realistic choices.

And those are my sparkling, holiday thoughts. Perhaps more appropriate for the Easter season where death brings renewal.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Guilty Fun

I love to walk around on a beautiful, clear, cool but not cold, Austin day. I love to go to the theater, see friends, go to a lovely holiday party with good wine and food and the unexpected pleasure of a world-class piano player performing for the guests. I love that the hosts had a roaring fire, a giant and stunningly-decorated tree and house. That they are old school and have a guest book for people to sign when they entertain.

Today I'm feeling a little guilty, though. Should I have been having fun while my niece and her husband were seeing to it that Dad was fed and doing OK? He has gotten very independent and all, but still.

I left them Saturday afternoon, had a little time to do stuff and then we went out and heard jazz and talked to friends. And Sunday morning? Ah, padding around the apartment for hours in sweat pants with bare feet, watching TV, drinking coffee, failing to finish the NY Times. Then I showered up, walked to Zach Scott Theater, saw "Rocking Christmas Party" while drinking a Shiner Celebration beer. Walked back after, caught up with FFP and we went to an amazing Christmas party. After that a little more time with the papers.

I felt a little guilty this morning and now I have to face the 'kids' (my almost 40-year-old niece and her husband) leaving for their home in Colorado on Wednesday morning. However, it's clear my dad can be left alone now for bits. Still I'll have to be at his house for appointments, to see about meals and chores. I'm thinking of hiring additional help. And dreading the logistics of that. Waiting to see the pronouncements of the doctor tomorrow and such.

I have nothing to say today except that I had fun over the weekend and I feel properly guilty about it. Well, not really, but you have to say it.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Family Moments

Families can be strife and misery and even the best can be tense as children grow and assert themselves in new ways and as the tragedies and disagreement pulls against the natural and nurtured links.

But there are little moments when the family seems like the most wonderful refuge from a cruel world.

At Thanksgiving two of my cousins and their families and one of my aunts joined FFP and I and Dad and my niece and her family (in from Colorado to help my dad) for Thanksgiving at Dad's because he couldn't travel. The meal came out great with contributions brought distances or purchased and then put together in a kitchen unfamiliar to all of us. Above you see my great niece with my cousin's 22-year-old son. She fell head over heels for her cousin of some sort (I can never figure out all that ordinal number and removed stuff). Having an older, grown but still young, relative pay attention to a three-year-old is one of the amazing things about families.

There was another moment in the last couple of days when I thought "that's why families work." My niece and her husband were sitting on a couch and their three-year-old daughter (above) was snuggling between them in that way little kids have of getting secure by getting as close to one or more parent as possible. My dad was in his chair (his 'throne' he calls it) and I was sitting nearby. We were laughing and joking, all comfortable with each other. It felt like moments during holidays and such when you were just sitting around and drinking coffee, maybe playing games or just having a conversation, secure in your family and its inside jokes and confident that we can all grow a little older and weather what comes and still be a family.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Going Crazy Now

What should you spend your mental cycles on? Lately I've been spending a lot of my bandwidth on the issues of my dad's health as well as his living situation and finances. The broad issues of what is going to happen to him and the extremely detailed issues of day-to-day care and feeding. How much of this is really helping him? Some, I guess.

I know there are lots of things I need to think about in my own life and finances. There is housekeeping of all sorts that I need to do. The literal kind, the financial kind and the computer kind. I try to make time for this but it keeps coming back to Dad. When I get away and I know someone is with him, I get a little break from it and start to think about my own life. Which is not exactly filled with purpose just now. Frankly when I get away I tend to socialize. Then people ask me how my dad is doing and I have to talk about it a little.

It's really a sad commentary on my effectiveness. Normally, I don't have any trouble managing a list of 'duties.' The problem with the Dad duty is that you feel like you are making awesome, irrevocable decisions about someone else's life. And that you are imminently unqualified for the job. Even if that person is ninety-three and people can toss the H word (hospice) around in his earshot without irony, it is overwhelming. Now it appears that he may be able to rally for another round, thanks to a last resort try at a fix. Which would make me feel better if it didn't just make the future all that much more unknown. How much additional help will he need now and in a few weeks? How long will this fix work? Will something else come along?

All any of us can do is make the best of where we are at any moment, managing our lives and health and capabilities. It's harder when you're doing it for someone else. I'm unsure if the task is made more difficult or easier by the relative cognitive capability retained by the person. Dad is aware of his situation and also aware of the point at which he wants me to make decisions. He's cooperative with me and his health care providers. I guess this is easier than dealing with someone less capable, in general. Although end of life decisions for my mother seemed easier in the final analysis. I had Dad to help, of course. But her very helplessness made things more black and white.

No...I'm not really going crazy. (Or that's my opinion.) But I wish I could find something else to write about since I'm doing the Holidailies thing and feel I have to write every day.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Even If I Were Feeling Festive I Wouldn't

Yeah, I'm the opposite of festive. But even if I were maximally festive (for me) there are things I wouldn't do. Not this season. And never.

Bake Cookies. I like a good sugar cookie that looks like a tree or bell or something as well as the next person. Maybe more. I enjoy the occasional other cookie. Maybe something with a little coconut. But I'm just not interested in baking. The rest of you feel free to do it. If I need cookies, I'll go to Upper Crust or Sweetish Hill. Or you the ones you bring me with the festive cellophane wrapping with Santa Claus on it.

Well, Cook Much of Anything. I have been known to make sweetbreads with an elaborate sauce and I'll assemble an app now and then. I've received accolades for deviled eggs. (Especially my a la Russe. Really. From a food writer.) But, really, I'm going to leave turkeys, hams, mashed potatoes, roasts and the rest of it to the real cooks. Sweetbreads, too. To me, that's what restaurants are for. If I'm invited to your house and you cook, though? Yeah, I love it.

Wear Festive Santa Claus Clothes and Accessories. I have a red sweater (gift) and a red blazer (bought at FFP's insistence decades ago while I was shopping for a navy one). I have no apparel with images of Santa Claus, trees or, for that matter, Baby Jesus. No dangling jingle bell necklaces or earrings. (Uh, yeah, and I never wear earrings anyway.) Now my mom loved a Nutcracker or Santa Sweatshirt, a woven Christmas sweater, etc. And Santa socks and earrings if she had her way. Not me. Never. No way. Seems I had a pin years ago that was a flamingo in a bright Christmas scarf. I wonder where that is?

Decorate a Tree, Let Alone a Tree that was Recently Alive. I like decorations, don't get me wrong. But if it isn't Christmas-themed bendable posable figures and Legos, I will probably not be putting it up in my house. I admire people who collect crystals from old chandeliers, clean them up and decorate a live tree Martha Stewart would envy. I go in bank lobbies and stores (and your house if you invite me) and am genuinely thrilled with the festive stuff. But in my house? Not. My mom loved to decorate and craft decorations. But. Not. Me.

Insist on Giving Real Gifts Instead of Cold Cash. Some friends I usually exchange gifts with have explicitly opted out. I've gotten a 'real' present for my nieces and their husbands and my great nephews. My niece will get a 'real' present from me for my great niece and, if she can find something, for my sister and brother-in-law. I'll give them the cash, too. If I only gave the cash, they'd understand. I have gotten nothing for FFP or my dad or in-laws. And I may not. Too hard. FFP asked what I wanted for Christmas. "Nothing." I answered and I am totally serious. I want nothing that could be purchased. Bah. Humbug.

Wish it Would be a White Christmas. My sister and her clan live in a Denver suburb. They can have my part of snow. Ditto friends living in New York, the Midwest, etc. Austin doesn't know how to deal with temperatures that support snow on the ground. End of story. I love that Christmas Day can be blue skies and a high of sixty. Yep. Go play tennis, walk around the lake! Yeah.

Go Caroling. Yeah, it's one of the cooler things about holidays, really. But I've gotten deep enough into my religious denial to feel a little silly singing along with Silent Night (although I'll do it for nostalgia's sake). Don't think I'll to go out and specifically sing at people's doors. Fact is, of course, that I also can't carry a tune in a bucket. I might put a selection of holiday tunes on the stereo, though. Especially like jazzy Christmas selections and Robert Earl Keen's "Christmas From The Family." Even though I'm not festive this year I might do that.

Shop on Black Friday. I've done some shopping (with support from the niece and FFP). But not on some anointed 'biggest shopping day' and not in the middle of the night. Never.

Well, somehow, delineating the rules has made me feel more festive. Or maybe it's just that I played that "Christmas From the Family" song from

Happy Holidays, Folks.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Somewhere Out There

Out where dreams come true.

Feeling vague and unsettled. No one knows the future, of course, but we can put this nice spin on our own planning when things are not going down fast. Watching my dad reach a nadir of as yet unknown depth has been a bitter experience. There are things with no fixes. You know that. And yet.

My dad's uneasy relationship with his own health right now and the fact that we are still doing the family care-giving 'wait and see' means we are focused on him in a probably unhealthy way. I know people give this kind of care to their relatives day-in and day-out for years and years. I won't being doing that regardless of the cost to my dad and me. Arranging for care will be challenge enough. A care facility might be an easier choice. For me anyway. But he adamantly wants to stay in the house he's been in for nine years. Of course, we bought it with the possibility that my parents could stay in it in old age and infirmity. It is handicapped accessible. My dad likes it. Perhaps too much.

It means I have trouble focusing on joyous things. Like the brief sunshine out there on a cool day. Like reading the paper. Or just editing a shop window picture and writing something. Like having a drink and some good food and visiting with friends.

It's only a couple of weeks until Christmas. My lack of festive feeling is pretty complete. If I get to go to the ballet tomorrow night to see "The Nutcracker" and maybe go to a couple of holiday parties, maybe that will change. But I'm pretty sure it won't. This holiday is a wash for me. Not that I need a holiday. I'm not religious and I'm retired so I don't need a vacation.

Except I do. I need a vacation from responsibilities. But no one gets that. Maybe next year at this time I'll feel festive, though.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009


Do you ever say to a someone taking care of a parent, spouse or friend "take care of yourself?" Yeah...people say this to me all the time lately as I've worked through this latest weeks-long health crisis with my dad.

Not a problem with me really. It's all about me. As I do what I think is right and proper for my dad I think constantly about what fun things I've cancelled. I wonder whether Forrest (and maybe someone enjoying a second ticket or seat at an event) are having a good time while I babysit my dad or attend to him at the doctor or hospital.

As I plan for my dad's future with him it is not in the back of my mind what will happen with me and whether I will be able to plan for my future for trips and commitments and the alleged joys of retirement. It is top of mind. Me then Dad. I'm sorry, but there it is. It doesn't mean I don't have his best interests at heart. But I'm the opposite of a martyr. Is their a word for that?

In the last two years FFP and I went on three trips I think. If you don't count one night in San Antonio and two nights at Lake Austin spa. Each of those longer trips had the attendant worry of some health problem with Dad and guilt over going away. It didn't end too badly in any case, but yeah I felt a little bad about and maybe resentment over the guilt.

Now the good thing about about my dad is that he doesn't want to be a burden and you can openly discuss your own frustration with him. My mom wasn't lucid at the end and you couldn't have had that discussion with her anyway. She was very different in that way.

When my Mom was in the hospital for the final 90+ days of her life, I spent a lot of time in her hospital room trying to keep her from removing IVs that were saving her life while she was hallucinating. I'd read newspapers and one night I was reading a travel section from "The New York Times" and dreaming of being able to travel, guilt-free. My mom said, suddenly, out of the blue, "I need to die or get better so you can travel." Yeah, I felt guilty for a few seconds and I knew she was hallucinating random stuff. Still I saw the wisdom.

So, when people say 'take care of yourself,' I'm thinking 'you bet I will.'   

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Not Knowing What You'll Find

When you are the allegedly responsible party for someone and you put them in someone else's care by leaving them overnight in the hospital, you get this nervous feeling when you are headed back to see them, worried about what went wrong and convinced that you are responsible. It feels like a sucker punch and you have to remind yourself that at the moment your job is to find your way to the facility and go in and then deal with what you find.

I left Dad at the hospital last night and went to his house for some food and rest. I felt like I was abandoning him. I'd had to remind the nurse to do something right before I left. And when I got away I wondered if they'd given him his evening meds. It was shift change and things are not always running smoothly. And his meds, well missing a dose is not necessarily life-threatening for him. My mother received an anti-convulsant that had to be dosed dead on so when she was hospitalized for a hundred days or so I went crazy with concern when they screwed it up.

So I found my way through the dark and fog this morning, ready for the sucker punch, hoping he was OK. He seemed to have been cared for just fine and they gave him pills last night he said. All he wanted really was his usual early pre-breakfast of a cookie and a cup of coffee. And guess what I brought?

I'm not a great caregiver, but I do care and that knot in my gut is my proof.

It's day two of Holidailies and I didn't want to miss so I did this on my iPhone.

Monday, December 07, 2009

People You Know

Yes, Visible Woman is back after a long drought. I'm participating in Holidailies, a project courtesy of my friends Chip and Jette. Lots of other people are blogging daily (or some semblance thereof) for the rest of the holidays as a gift to themselves and others. So click through to the portal if you arrived at this new entry only to be bored with Visible Woman all over again.

Now onward to my first Holidaily of 2009:

This is a photo of Barbara Hammond and Colum McCann taken at Ulysses' Folk House in downtown Manhattan on June 16, 2009. I like the cigarette lighting ritual between these two friends. The point of using this picture today is just to show some interesting people to accompany this piece. These are some people I know a little. In Colum's case, I was introduced and that's it. (By Barbara.) In Barbara's case we met her at the Austin Film Festival and have corresponded and met up for some Bloomsday activities in New York, had some meals and drinks. (The picture was taken at one of the Bloomsday things at the Ulysses' place where we met Colum.)

How many people do I know? By 'know' I mean I have met them and, if we meet again, I will sort of know I know them and they might recognize me. Not celebrities or notables, local or otherwise, that would never in a million years be able to identify me. But people I am actually acquainted with and who would have at least a small possibility of knowing who I am, etc.

I doubt if Colum would remember me if we met again. Fact is I had to dig in brain and Internet to get his name right. I read this piece in the New York Times the same day I met him. He's a published author so there you go. But I'd forgotten his name's exact spelling and I haven't even read any of his books. Barbara is a playwright but we've exchanged enough e-mail and conversation that I feel like, more than that, she's a friend.

Through Barbara we met a talented niece of hers who happens to live in Austin. We had some food and drink together. We're facebook friends. I'd say I know her a little.

All these people. That one sort of 'knows.'

I have a database of contacts for mailing reference. There are 557 entries in it. I know plenty of people, some quite well, who aren't on this list because I've just never had snail mail correspondence with them or for some reason not added them to this database or had them on it and then deleted them because I lost track of their mailing address and other contact info. Then there are hundreds of contacts on my e-mail address book and some overlap with the mail database. There are facebook 'friends' (who are these people? I sometimes wonder). Based on this evidence I'd say I know a thousand people, probably two thousand counting spouses, children, dogs and hangers-on. Not that all of them could recall who I am, but most would.

Occasionally we need to canvas our 'contacts' looking for willing donors for some cause or, more often, to populate a social event. It's an interesting exercise to, for example, try to have a party for 10 people or 50. Who to choose? How many will say 'no.' How many will say 'yes' and not come? And we try to do an annual holiday mailing. When we moved in 2008, we did moving announcements. Then we have to choose who to create mailing labels for. We usually create 200-250 labels representing, I don't know, maybe 400 people.

This time of year I go through the over 500 names in the data base and adjust a column labeled 'XMAS' putting 'Y' in it or erasing it and thinking about the person or family. Who are they? How did I meet them? Are they still together? Are the kids still living at home? Did they send a card lately? And sometimes, sadly, I delete a name or an entry due to death. Or, if I don't hear from them often, I wonder...are they still alive?

At the end of the day, I think the holiday card thing is really just an attempt to come to grips with a certain group of people I know, reach out and receive the dreaded 'no forwarding address' for some and, for others, receive in turn cards, Christmas letters and who knows what. In today's world I guess it would be like writing on the wall of all your facebook 'friends' or something. Some cards go and don't come back but otherwise you have no evidence they've arrived.

My cards are out this year. There's been a certain amount of synchronicity. I was labeling one card to a relative's family when FFP came in with the mail from downstairs and there was a card from that family. I was reviewing a card address for a very recent widow when I realized FFP was speaking with her on the phone. I told someone Sunday night that I received their card and they said "I got yours! They must have crossed in the mail." I am more pleased with this than I have any right to be and my friend seemed to be, too. Makes no sense really. And I'm wondering what will replace that feeling when printed and stamped mail is well and truly obsolete.

In case you are still are some past thoughts on holiday cards and such: last year's holiday card wrap-up; a note after sending cards in 2007; a wrap-up for 2006. Anthropologists are welcome, in the future, to examine all this. There's more, too, buried in my old blogs. But it makes me tired seeking it out.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Looking Forward

We were dropping something off at a PR guy's office Monday and there, next to his computer, was an old Remington typewriter and a TV with little subordinate TVs built in that reminded me of those pictures of LBJ in the White House watching multiple screens. Once this was sophisticated office technology. We looked forward to having such things. (Well maybe we would have been pining for an IBM Selectric type ball electric typewriter.) I remember longing to electronic calculator! Yes, I was of the slide rule generation.

At least, back in the day, I was looking forward. I don't find I do that much any more. Not that I live in the past. Not at all. I'm locked firmly in the present.

It's a present where you could be seduced by dreams of one sort or the other, but quickly slide back to the reality of physical decline (yours and other people's) and limited expectations. Being firmly retired (seven years) and barely into my sixties and living as comfortably as we are? Beyond my wildest expectations but not beyond my dreams. I dreamed of fortunes to lavish things on myself and, especially, others---friends and charities.

If only you felt that you were going to stay healthy and wealthy enough to have the imagined gadgets and adventures and didn't feel that there are many things you'll never do or have. The fact that you don't even want some of the things, that's good. But the feeling of limitation isn't always pleasant.

In 2001, after 9/11 I started working on a list of things "I'd never care to do" and things "I one day (still) hope to do or do again." Among the 'nevers?' Ride a motorcycle. Among the "hope to dos?" Travel to every country where women are not subjugated. It seems like a list I ought to work on some more. I'll look forward to that.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Scarier Than Halloween

Some people like scary movies. They like being scared? That's what they say. I've finally learned to watch scary movies by disassociating. It's a movie. It isn't happening. It's easier with fanciful big monsters crushing toy cars and trains. I used to hate 'scary music.' You know, the stuff they play to heighten the scenes when you want to yell at an actor to not open a door or go off alone or some such. FFP would watch something on TV and it would have scary music and I'd yell my disgust from the other room.

I've gotten better. Really. But still. Real life scares me enough.

I am not scared of death. Not mine, not anyone's. The fact of it, that each of us 'owes one' suits me. No. I know one day a bus will come my way or there will be some other accident or, more likely, now that I've made it through all these decades, one or more organs will quit doing their work.

Not afraid to die. Know that the choices for friends and relatives are stark, too: mourn me or I mourn you.

But, really, everything leading up to that state is scary. The world is a frightening place. Sure I feel safe just now in my condo. More or less. Lots of people are looking over their shoulders every moment. But I know things are stalking me and my family. Disease and decline.

Every day we read about wars and financial crises and hate crimes and running out of health insurance. Bad things happen to people we know and people far away.

Who needs Halloween to get scared?

[SoCo shop window reflection entitled "Day of the Dead Shadow."]

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Where Were You?

Yesterday was the twentieth anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake in Northern California. I happened to notice a news story today in my news feed (I probably subscribe to too many feeds because I'm always behind...just like the newspapers). Anyway, this is the earthquake that collapsed a double-deck portion of a freeway in Oakland. I was nowhere near the earthquake. I was, in fact, about 6000 miles away in the south part of France. Nevertheless, I remember it well. I walked from a little country inn perched near Mougins Village in France to the village to buy newspapers. Both the International Herald Tribune (in English) and the French paper had huge headlines about the earthquake. My friends and I crowded into a public lounge at the inn (the only place with a TV) and watched coverage. We were frustrated when they cut off the voice of someone they were interviewing to dub in the French translation. I read the French newspaper (with the aid of my pocket electronic translator) and they described the freeway scene with the collapsed deck on the cars below as 'coffins of concrete.'

Thinking back to that time twenty years ago, made me realize how we connect to big events and disasters based on where we are and what we are doing...even if it's far away from the site.

I finished listening to cassettes in my car about British Kings and Queens. I still can't remember all the Georges and all the hanky-panky and wars. But, of course, I remember when Princess Di was killed. I was home for that one and I think FFP woke me up to tell me the news. A short time later I was in Paris and there was a memorial near the underpass where the wreck occurred.

We all remember where we were when Kennedy was assassinated (if we were alive). I was in History class.

And, of course, 9/11. I saw the first report of the plane flying into the WTC on a tiny 5inch B&W TV we kept in the bathroom at the Shoal Creek house. I think I also heard about the 1994 Northridge earthquake on this TV. I called my Northridge friend. The phones were out. I called my friend in San Dimas and my Northridge friend was there (thankfully).

In 1981 we had a big flood in Austin. Thirteen people died in and around Shoal Creek. I remember the party in the unfinished penthouse of a bank building on 15th Street, watching the storm develop. And leaving early because we were in black tie and sunburned and uncomfortable and, after we got home and changed, deciding not to go out again because it was raining so hard. And waking the next morning incredulous at the destruction and amazed at the debris line in our backyard.

I don't remember when I first heard about August 1, 1966, the day Charles Whitman mounted the UT tower to bring down people with a high-powered rifle. I was in Sacramento, California on a trip with my sister. So I wasn't even in Texas. Little did I know how close Whitman came to changing my future, though, gunning down someone a few scant feet from my future husband, someone I didn't even know at the time.

I think the message is this: if there is going to be a disaster, you should be close to me. I'll be far away or, at least, oblivious and safe. But we always remember a lot about the time, don't we? And where we were.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Stories We Tell Ourselves

We only deal in narrative, really. Oh, we think we are about emotions and feelings and such: love, hate, sadness, desire, curiosity, learning, meditating. But we can only think about these things, it seems, in the context of the stories we tell about ourselves and others, about places we moved through and things we've touched and seen and events we attended.

Today's picture is a shop window reflection at Uncommon Objects on South Congress. I've always been curious about the photos for sale in shops like this. Important enough to take and develop in that era before digital cameras and yet somehow leaving a family and its narrative and ending up in a bin for sale by an antique dealer. I've even bought a few in the past, thinking I'd just invent a narrative to go with it. Of course, inventing stories, fiction I think it's called, is something I've always had problems with because of the whole 'making it all up' part.

I've been taking a writing class ("Writing Your Life As A Woman" conducted by Dean Lofton) and what I notice in this class (which is focused on just getting the writing out and seeing where it goes, writing from prompts about real things in your life) is that no one just writes "I am happy" or "I was sad" or "I felt lost." Instead, they tell what they were doing constructing that emotion with details. Sometimes the listeners can't even tell that the scenes in the narrative create the emotion but suddenly there are tears from the reader.

I have my stock stories and the other day I was telling one of them and I started to wonder about some of the details. And then I realized that the detail didn't really matter as much as the reason why I hung on to that particular narrative. There was something I wanted to convey about my life in this world and the story was key to it. The story was neither fact nor fiction. It had an element of truth but the retelling made it important.

I frequently talk about the class I took before that was similar to the one Dean is conducting. I talk about how I enjoyed scribbling to writing prompts, reading and listening to others read and following up with writing 'sessions' with a friend. I tell about the hundreds of scraps of paper and dozens of notebooks of all sizes and shapes that I filled up with scribbles and notes and lists and have trouble tossing. (I'd done this for years before that class and have for years after.) I tell that because I want people to understand that I trust writing as therapy and a path to emotion. I sometimes mention that I didn't particularly care for that other instructor.

When I review those old writings, I sometimes say I'm sad or happy or excited. And that's the dullest thing in the world to read. But sometimes I read about the exact exercises I did, what I weighed, what I ate, what errands I did, where I went shopping and what I bought. I find a word I encountered written down, maybe with the definition, maybe not. I tell people I love words, but I tell them with stories. About trying to 'read' the dictionary. And about how when I was programming I'd be writing something and have to look up a word for some reason. (This was back before spell check, online dictionaries, etc.) And I would actually think: "That's the most fun I had all day long." It tells you something beyond "I love words."

Sometimes, though, we tell ourselves a story about a time in our lives that is not really false exactly but just wrong. If we wrote something down during that time, we might edit that story and make it a little more true to ourselves. Today I read some journal entries (actually a wad of yellow legal pad paper written on one side) from 1985. I remember at the time being sort of a lazy goof. Writing a journal when I should have been working. Stuff like that. But reading about the code I wrote and the thought I put into it and the things I was doing outside work and the thought that was going into my diet and exercise, I thought "Hmmm...maybe I had it together a little bit and had some good ideas. Maybe the fact that no product emerged to take the PC-DOS world by storm was not completely, entirely my fault." And yet, it's just a narrative either way. A way of putting the emotions of that time, and before, and since into a frame that I can relate to and that others can as well.

[Note: I'm determined to hit 'Publish' on this even though it doesn't seem to say much. The reason is that there are four unpublished drafts in Visible Woman before this one. The titles are: Free Ideas, People You Know, Ups and Downs and Exceedingly Random. They have semi-clever pictures attached. They languish. My three readers are disappointed. Just must publish something.]

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


[FFP took this yesterday from our balcony, looking south at sunset. All the clouds were reflecting sunset in the east and south. I didn't look at the actual sunset, but FFP went to the pool deck on nine to take some pictures there, too.]

When I was in school or working, sometimes a sick day sounded like the best thing in the world. Bundled up in bed with some books or newspapers, watching mindless TV. Yeah. Even if a box of Kleenex was needed nearby and you were in a drug fog, it didn't sound so bad, staying home with your entertainments. As DVDs and cable TV came along, it sounded even better.

Truthfully, though, there never seemed to be a good day to be sick (or pretend to be). Always an important event at school, a customer visit at work or a critical deadline or bug to fix.

Yesterday I felt almost perfect. Not quite, one niggling problem but nothing that would keep me from doing just about anything. But...I'm retired. And, in what is really sort of a rare confluence of events, there was no errand, Dad duty, tennis, social event or really any good reason to leave the condo. I needed exercise, but there is a gym steps across the hall.

So I stayed on the tenth floor of the 360 condos for an entire day. Fact is it's been thirty-six hours now because a little rain nixed tennis this morning. Yesterday, Forrest interviewed someone in North Austin, worked out at Westwood, grocery shopped for his mom and us, went down to get the mail and later a package delivery, had lunch with someone at Garrido's downstairs, drove his lunch date home, went to the parking garage with a load of recycling and went to the pool deck to take pictures at sunset. Today, he's been to the dentist (on foot) and to the little grocery downstairs for banana bread.

Yesterday, I cleaned the master bedroom (change and wash linens, dust, vaccum, even the blinds). I took the time to ponder some of the books and objects in there. There are a lot of books I want to read, one I need to read and return to its owner. Today I'm working on some laundry. I have a plan to dust the office and vacuum in here when FFP is away on a lunch date. Maybe.

I watched "Pierrot Le Fou" off and on on a Netflix DVD. Godard's film is really a celebration of settings and objects in Cinemascope. "Life" as Godard said "in Scope. " That's what I thought while watching it. That's what he claimed in a quote I found later on

I read all the papers, did the daily puzzles. I read papers from Sunday and other old papers that I hadn't gotten around to reading.

I did some of the paper reading while glancing at CNN, listening to the iPod (Sonny Rollins, Chet Baker, etc.) and riding the exercise bike in the gym across the hall. I also listened to the iPod while cleaning while FFP was out, blasting it in all the apartment's speakers.

I wrote a blog entry (see below) that was much more coherent than this one.

I reviewed all our credit card and bank accounts and Dad's, too.

I watched the Dallas Cowboys play football while FFP slept in his chair. I would have watched a movie or TV but I kept thinking he would wake up and, besides, I was reading papers and working puzzles. Actually, it was sort of an interesting game.

I stepped out on our balcony from time to time to check on construction and de-construction: the Austonian, the W, the courthouse, the decommissioning of the Tom Green Water Treatment plant and some noisy street destruction by the city. (They are putting in a water line to Seaholm track that necessitates tearing up the street every other day.) I watched the sunset reflected in the non-west sky.

I ate yogurt, cereal, a banana, nachos, some hummus. I drank a lot of coffee and, in the evening, a couple of glasses of a rosé FFP opened.

It was just like those pretend sick days in my dreams. Listening to music, TV, DVDs, papers, little chores. Just staying home. Being home when others are out and about. Reveling in all the entertainments and catching up.

But, now, well, I've got a bit of cabin fever. I feel I need to go get on the elevator and go to another floor at least. I'm not sure I'm cut out to be a recluse.

Monday, September 28, 2009


[Photo: February 2008, MOMA museum reflection self portrait in a shiny airstream trailer included in an exhibit. Would a magpie be attracted to a shiny airstream? For sure a peacock would...they love to preen or maybe fight their reflections.]

Let's go back a bit. It's March, I think, 1999. I don't have any online journals from then and I can't find any computer files from this time. I have typed in some paper journals from the '90's but none include this exact time period. So the following is from memory. Faulty, faulty memory.

I was reminded this morning of magpies when I read one of my favorite online journals and John Bailey posted a little haiku (or, at least a poem, I never remember poetry rules) in today's entry that involved a magpie.

Anyway, it's March 1999. I am in a rehab center in the Denver area with my parents, visiting my sister. There is snow outside and there are large black and white birds flying around. It's pretty. Those birds were magpies and they were the first I'd ever seen. I'd heard people called magpies because they were attracted to every shiny object that came along. But I guess I'd never looked the bird up in a book and seen how striking the bird was, large and black and white. I wished I had a picture of them against the snow. My dad enjoyed seeing them, too, and knew what they were I think. He loves nature and new things and always loved seeing things and going places where you might see something new.

The life of our immediate family had undergone a sea change in the December before (1998). My sister had suffered a cranial aneurysm. By a miraculous chain of events she got to the hospital and survived a repair of it. Unfortunately she developed subsequent ischemic strokes and suffered some brain damage and partial paralysis during three weeks of ICU. Now she was in a rehab facility learning to walk again and use her right arm and undergoing cognitive therapy and such. My parents were old enough at this point (they were 77 and 82) that I vetoed them visiting my sister for months. My brother-in-law and my grown nieces were providing the support my sister needed. They didn't need to worry about old folks falling on an icy patch, etc. This had made for a solemn Christmas at our house in Austin. As I remember it we got continued news of complications from Denver. We did the little things that make a holiday (eating, drinking, working a jigsaw puzzle, exchanging gifts) but our minds were on my sister for sure. My parents had trouble swallowing that she was so ill. Parents never expect to see their children in that condition, even if the child is fifty-five.

Finally, in March they were set on visiting my sister in rehab. Of course, it was still winter in Denver. I was still working. I must have taken some vacation. I arranged for us to fly up there and rent a car and stay in a hotel. I determined that I'd look after the parents so as not to interfere with my brother-in-law and nieces, all ready if not overwhelmed by the now months of the ordeal at least not needing another thing to worry about. I don't remember if I flew to Dallas and met my parents there. I do remember renting the car and getting a Subaru Forrester with four wheel drive. The weather wasn't bad. A little snow, no blizzards or really slick roads. I delivered my parents from door to door.

I remember being so glad to actually talk to my sister and see that she still had her voice (although its timber and pace was changed forever), lots of cognitive ability and a drive to get better. The insurance company was trying to dismiss her from rehab as having recovered as much as possible (before she walked again, which she has been able to do for the last decade) and when an insurance rep visited, she reached up with her right hand to shake hands with the woman. The woman did a little double take, knowing it was a left brain injury but having read that she wouldn't recover use of her right side. Sure my sisters arm and hand were weak and spastic but she lifted it from the sheets toward the woman's hand. (She got her reprieve and learned to walk with a cane and use her right arm more.) Dad accompanied her to one therapy session and my mom, niece and I chatted in the room. We somehow started talking about a relative who had divorced and were trying to remember the first spouse's name or something like that. We could not remember. We asked my sister when she came back. She knew right away. OK, I thought, a lot of long term memory intact. Still it hurt to watch her struggle to play checkers on a giant board with Velcro pieces.

When you are in the midst of a struggle like that, if focuses your attention. We'd been feeling that even hundreds of miles away but up close we joined the local relatives in a scenario that heightened everything going on with one woman's therapy and dampened everything outside that reality.

Then I looked out the window and saw the magpies. My dad identified them, probably. Maybe he told a story about seeing magpies somewhere before. The world outside intruded on our myopic view. Things might not get better but they would change and there was a world outside this crisis.