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The ‘Gray Rhino’ moves into a nursing home; great experiences ensue

Me&MicahRhinoOptimized

Me and a friend, both wearing our rhino-chasing faces….and, me, of course, the T-shirt.

No matter you may have read on “CNN fake news,” a gray rhino is not shorthand for “Chinese banking crisis.”

It can be something as simple as not running a red light.

I know this, because the author of “The Gray Rhino: How to Recognize and Act on the Obvious Dangers we Ignore” is my closest girlfriend.

I remember when Michele first started talking about the book, and I remember when she was writing it. I forget a lot of stuff, but I’m pretty sure would have remembered Chinese banking crises if they’d been in mix for inclusion.  Greek defaults and the Argentinian financial debacle were. China, not so much.

So what’s a gray rhino? In disaster avoidance parlance, to paraphrase the book’s subtitle, a gray rhino is an impending and avoidable threat to which you can respond.

I was dealing with one when Michele was working on her book.

‘Woman with with weird resume seeking soft landing’

Ten years ago, something happened at my grant-funded job that made it pretty clear its days were numbered. Ironically, a large component of my job involved helping other people address the fallout from their up-ended lives. I helped them figure out what their best next moves were, then did what I could to see them through those moves. Given that, it would have been pretty hypocritical to pretend I didn’t need to start casting about for my own best chance at a soft landing, which turned out to be enrolling in a library and information science graduate program.

I got laid off the year after I walked across a stage to pick up my master’s degree, spent the following 11 months of non-day-job work applying for day jobs, editing dissertations, writing freelance newspaper and web-based stories and indexing a book. Then, one of those applications panned out and, to my great delight, I landed a job as a public librarian.

Michele loves that story. She keeps asking me to blog about it. But I want to blog about a different gray rhino.

My mom.

Mom has been in a nursing home for almost four years. Before she actually ended up in one, ending up in one was her biggest fear.

Rhino avoided….for awhile

I have vivid memories of nursing home visits to elderly relatives with 50-something Mom. That woman was vibrant. She ran from morning ‘til night. She worked, volunteered, played bridge, was active in her synagogue, a regular at book group and still found time to travel the world with her sisters and host friends at her house on Cape Cod.

We’d walk into a facility and the smell – a melange of stale, damp and vague decay – would hit us. Then, there’d be the sights en route to our destination, usually someone’s room. Near-comatose old people with wispy hair and rheumy eyes sitting in wheelchairs in the halls, or arranged in rows in common rooms in front of a TV. Some would stare at nothing, some were aware of us. Some babbled weird things that were unintelligible or if intelligible, more closely resembled random word strings than coherent thoughts.

We’d find our person and have our visit. On our walk back to the car, Mom would utter a variation of the same declaration.

“If I’m ever like that, shoot me or give me pills.”

I’m pretty sure that 50-year-old Mom would shoot 89-year-old Mom.

Eighty-nine-year-old Mom, however, is not nearly as upset about her current situation.

There are, I think, several reasons for this, many of which involve a veritable herd of Michele-style Gray Rhinos. If Parkinson’s disease had not derailed her well-laid out plans, she’d be living quite contentedly on Cape Cod, using her yearly required withdrawal from her 401K to travel. She’d still be living off her pension and social security checks for daily expenses. Parkinson’s disease was the gray rhino that led us, ultimately, to what Mom – and the rest of us – didn’t think existed.

A good nursing home experience.

After nearly four years, it dawned on me recently that my family is having one. In a very real sense, we were damned lucky to bumble into it. But we also did – and have continued to do – things to maximize the “good” ness of our situation.

How to have a ‘good’ nursing home experience

I could write for days about this, but no one wants to read that much for that long. So I’ll do my best to keep it simple. Here are four tips, two of which I have never seen in any book about nursing homes.

  1. PR Rollout
  2. Show up!
  3. Their casa is your casa
  4. Plan ahead

Before I elaborate, though, a disclaimer.  A lot of what went down in the decade or so preceding Mom’s decision (and it was her decision) to move to a nursing home had reassured her that as far as my sister and I were concerned, she was still in charge. Losing mobility and stamina did not mean losing the right to have her wishes honored while she was still intact enough to make those decisions herself. That still stands now that I am in charge of making decisions on her behalf.

FuneralCostsGrayRhino2015

Words to live by. And so benign-seeming when surrounded by painted gingerbread people.

So, without further ado, this, based on our experience, is how to have a great nursing home experience.

Create buzz

If possible, try to build some buzz around your person’s arrival. Think “PR rollout.”  We didn’t plan or intend that, but it turned out to be a lucky and very happy accident.

Mom, having made the decision that the nursing home was where she needed to be, opted to blow town and visit her sisters, leaving me to divest of what wouldn’t fit in her new room and choose what would and should. She flew off to California to spend three weeks with her older sisters.  (My daughter was headed out there for a conference, so she stopped and picked up Granny on the way; my sister flew from Canada to California, then brought Mom home to her new room.)

I spent the next three weeks cleaning out her apartment, the latter two of them moving things over to her new place, which was in an adjoining building. In the process I got to know the people on her unit. I found out that many of the CNAs had been there for years, a very good sign. They exclaimed over her artwork and listened to my stories about Mom. There was something exotic about her being in California, and the idea that she’d be arriving on a night in the future, like some movie star on tour.

I hadn’t intended the three weeks she was gone to be a buzz-building campaign, but that’s how it worked out. By the time she arrived, everyone was really excited to meet her. Note: I also decorated her room somewhat strategically, placing her United Way ‘Self Above Service’ award and other recognitions she’d received over the course of her life for teaching and synagogue involvement in view of the entrance to her room.

Be present!

I had the luxury of working a mile-and-a-half from Mom for the first two years she was at the Home. But if you can’t be the person who pops in between four and five times weekly (more often even), try to get someone else to do it for you. These don’t have to be extended visits. Sometimes the trip there and back took more time than the quick hello, hug and kiss for Mom and a ‘Hi!’ to other residents and staff people.

Now that I work on the other side of town at a much less flexible job, I’m only there a couple of times a week. But everyone knows why. My sister arranged for her to have a companion two nights a week, so even though I’m not there as often, Mom still gets outside attention.

One of my proudest moments some two years into Mom’s being there occurred when she, more lucid then, reported that on a bathroom run in the middle of the night, the attendants were talking past her (which happens, sadly). One said to the other, “We have to take care of her right away, otherwise she’ll call her daughter.” If you can’t win ‘em over with kindness, making them afraid of you is the next best thing.

By the way, about the staff people: Learn their names. And if you are that kind of person, learn their stories. My sister and I have both worked as reporters. Reporters are curious people who are genuinely interested in other people and their stories. If you’re not built that way, find other ways to be kind to the CNAs and caregivers. Figure out what’s in your comfort zone and show them you appreciate what they’re doing for your person.

Debby and I have ended up making some lovely friends. We also have gotten unofficial calls from staff who’ve let us know when Mom has needed something specific and/or something has happened of which they think we should be aware. To say that we’re grateful doesn’t begin to express our feelings of appreciation and respect for these amazing people.

Don’t treat it like an institution.

You may have to sign in and out and your house probably didn’t have elevators, CNAs and nurses (unless the latter two were your parents and/or siblings) but don’t be shy about treating the place like home. There was the time a new nurse-practitioner was looking for ice and asked a busy staffer. I knew where it was and got it for him.  My attitude? Yeah, it’s a nursing home. But my mother lives here. So it’s my mom’s house. That goes whether I’m rummaging in the kitchen for cups, straws and tops during an ice water run, fetching a towel or a wheelchair from the storage closets or helping out when dinner’s being served.

Look ahead.

Even though I thought I knew this, I didn’t. I do now because of something I said earlier: “Get to know the staff people.”

I have promised Mom a beautiful, easy death. Which is why, last month, I signed papers with hospice care. Mom gets to stay where she is, and a bunch of new people now come in to see her (social worker, nurse, personal care workers, music therapist).

She’s not at the point where anyone needs to swoop in as what my dear friend Julie (who spent a month in hospice before heading off to the Great Mysterious Beyond Place) referred to as “the pharmaceutical death factory.” But when it does, the hospice people are going to be right there to catch her.

What I didn’t know was that if those papers and that plan isn’t in place and your loved one in a nursing home takes a sudden turn for the worse, the lag time between contacting doctors and pharmacies might well mean that your loved one suffers and dies in pain.

That’s what happened recently to someone on Mom’s unit. The family hadn’t made any arrangements; their loved one did not have the easy death that would otherwise have happened. It tore at the hearts of the staff to watch someone they had come to love and care for suffer when that didn’t have to be the case.

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American ‘Greatness’ in action: Best celebrity gossip site & worst quiz ever

I am a lucky person. On weekday mornings, my alarm clock is Sweetheart coming through the bedroom door and handing me a cup of hot coffee.

The ritual dates back to the early days of our relationship. Since January 20, there’s been a new component.

He hands me coffee. My line after “Thank you” is:  “What fresh hell today?”

Sometimes he knows, because he watched the news. Other days, he tells me about the videos he watched and whether the dog has made her outdoor by-product deposit.

This morning, though, I owe a thanks to a fellow poster on Celebitchy, the high-end mind-candy celebrity gossip site for answering my daily question. Posts about the most banal of topics (the Clooney/Beyonce-JayZ twins, Kardashian-du-jour, etc.) are elevated by the site’s writers, and taken to a completely other level by its commenters.

They are, for the most part, a highly intelligent and thoughtful group. I don’t post as much there as I might because {job/Mom/pet care/other responsibilities} but I am a great lurker and have even made a friend there.

CB has been posting about the Trumps since election season, and is keeping the community updated on a regular basis about what’s happening. Those posts are informative on a lot of levels. Many of the commenters live outside the US, so we get a global perspective on how his antics are being received. I should add here that most posters are not his chosen demographic, so if you are all hyped about how “Great” America is becoming in the wake of the election, what you find on CB will not please you. (Just read the Selena Gomez and Angelina Jolie posts.)

Anyway, on a post titled “Donald Trump tweets that the media is the enemy of the American people,” from yesterday, commenter named justjj posted this:

 

just-jj

This was my response:

cannibellresponse

I copied and pasted the survey below, so no one has to click on the site. And to anyone else who is either totally sick of winning and/or thinking about Germany in 1933, you’re not alone. (Based on some of the questions, it’s been up since before November but note that it has not been taken down or changed. Forgive me for not bothering to remove the extra bullet points in the spaces between questions. Someone has to get to the dog park!)

 

Mainstream Media Accountability Survey

  • Do you trust MSNBC to fairly report on our campaign?
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • Do you trust CNN to fairly report on our campaign?
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • Do you trust Fox News to fairly report on our campaign?
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • On which issues does the mainstream media do the worst job of representing Republicans? (Select as many that apply.)
    • Immigration
    • Economics
    • Pro-life values
    • Religion
    • Individual liberty
    • Conservatism
    • Foreign policy
    • Second Amendment rights
  • Which television source do you primarily get your news from?
    • Fox News
    • CNN
    • MSNBC
    • Local news
    • Other
  • Which online sources do you use? (Select as many that apply.)
    • Drudge Report
    • Breitbart
    • National Review
    • Weekly Standard
    • Free Beacon
    • Daily Caller
    • American Spectator
    • Red Alert Politics
    • Other
  • Do you trust the mainstream media to tell the truth about the Republican Party’s positions and actions?
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • Hillary Clinton still gets a free pass from the media as she continues to lie about sending classified information on her secret server.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • The mainstream media takes Donald Trump’s statements out of context, but bends over backwards to defend Hillary’s statements.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • The mainstream media failed to cover the fact that Bernie Sanders LEFT the Democrat Party.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • The mainstream media needs to do more to expose the shady donations to the Clinton Foundation.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • Political correctness has created biased news coverage of both illegal immigration and radical Islamic terrorism.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • The RNC was right to drop CNBC as a partner after they failed to fairly moderate the October debate.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • The mainstream media hardly reported on the fact that our small-dollar fundraising nearly MATCHED Hillary’s Wall Street fundraising machine.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • The mainstream media played a critical role in electing President Obama and is now attempting to do it again for Hillary Clinton.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • Contrary to what the media says, raising taxes does not create jobs.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • People of faith have been unfairly characterized by the media.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • American history is being rewritten by “social justice” activists.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • The media has not done its due diligence to expose ObamaCare’s many failures.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • The media wrongly attributes gun violence to Second Amendment rights.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • Coverage of the Tea Party movement has been deliberately negative.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • The media has turned a blind eye to Planned Parenthood’s worst actions.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • Americans are not fully aware just how much waste there is in the federal government.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • The fact that the man who set up Hillary’s server was granted immunity should be a bigger story in the press.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • More time is spent covering fake “scandals” involving Trump than real scandals involving Hillary and our national security.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • In order to preserve whatever journalistic integrity they have left, the mainstream media must come forward and admit Hillary LIED about her secret server.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • The media uses slurs rather than facts to attack conservative stances on issues like border control, religious liberties, and ObamaCare.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • If Donald Trump said or did half of the things Hillary Clinton has, the media would effectively end his candidacy.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • The media purposely tries to divide Republicans against each other in order to help elect Democrats.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • We should spend more time and resources holding the mainstream media accountable.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion

 

Enter Your Information

Full Name

Email Address

 

 

Zip Code

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Kill ’em with kindness: Donald Trump, Kellyanne Conway and the ‘Old People Hypothesis’

Ever been told to be careful about that sour expression on your face because “It might freeze like that?”

The truth is actually simpler and more complicated, and I offer up as Exhibits A (male) & B (female) our current mess of a president and one of his “counselors.”

Donald_Trump_official_portrait.jpgkellyanne_conway_by_gage_skidmore

 

 

 

 

 

 

Look at Donald Trump’s and Kellyanne Conway’s faces and try to imagine that you’ve never seen them before.

Now, picture yourself  in a situation where you need to ask a stranger for some small thing – standing on a corner in a strange city and not being sure whether to turn left or right to reach your destination, wanting to know what time it is or whether you just missed the bus you’re waiting to catch.

Do they look like people you’d want to ask?

Over the past five years, I have been spending a lot of time hanging out with old people. And by “old people,” I mean the 80-plus set.

Back when 30 seemed like 100 and I blew out the candles on my eighth birthday cake, those people looked unimaginably ancient. Now, those eight and 30-year-olds look at me and see what I saw back then.

[Confession/digression: I kind of like it. Sure, mass media is all about youth and beauty, and it might be fun to be firm and wrinkle-free and all. But the truth is that learning to steer older has been a fairly smooth ride.

Benefits include the ability to call out someone with nothing more than a smile and a kind word or two. There’s zero attitude and the exchange often moves on from there, ending on an upbeat note for everyone involved. Which is, I think, is directly connected to my sense of entitlement – or lack thereof.]

An angry co-worker at a previous job once accused me of thinking I owned the world, and in my head I was l all, “Well, yeah, and so do you!”

Also at that previous job was an older female co-worker whose features could have settled into something pretty, or gentle, but didn’t. She looked mean. Because she was mean.

I’ve spent a lot of time since then observing old people – and that was way before Mom went to the nursing home. The result is my Old People Hypothesis.

Old People Hypothesis: As we age, we tend to look more on the outside like we are on the inside.

In other words, that mean-looking older person (assuming they haven’t had “work” done or been caught up by some disease that changed their physical appearance) is likely to be a mean older person. Conversely, the one whose default expression is soft and kind is also likely to be soft and kind.

aunties1

I see it with the residents in Mom’s nursing home, and I see it now with Kellyanne Conway, who, at 50, already is well on her way to a truly gruesome old-person face. Then there’s her boss. Who, at 70, looks on the outside the way he is on the inside.

The Old People Hypothesis doesn’t extend to spreading that ugliness around. But after his first week in office, I’m pretty sure of one thing for those of us out here on the ground.

Killing ‘em with kindness has never mattered more.

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Staying sane in Trump’s America: a few handy survival tips

By this time tomorrow, a Giant Bowl of Id and his minions will be running the country. I’m anxious and I know I’m not alone.

We need to band together and work to make sure this doesn’t happen in four years, including making sure mid-term elections head us in that direction.

But demoralized, depressed people don’t band together. They isolate. We can’t afford that.

So here are five ground rules for living in the orbit of a volatile, inconsistent narcissist who is doing his best to implement a system that has the power to mess with your equilibrium and potentially derail your life – without letting him.

 

 

1. If you don’t already have a support system, find one. Friends make a difference.

Pyramidistas in Pyramidair.jpg

2. Choose at least one thing that is entirely yours and guard it with all you’ve got. It can be as simple as a 10-minute head-clearing walk every day, keeping a journal, joining an athletic team or learning to play the ukulele. Something small, simple and sanity-inducing that is completely within your control.

PuzzleConstruction

3. If engaging with someone difficult or toxic, keep communication simple. In a potentially adversarial or threatening situation, the smartest and best thing is to listen carefully, then RESPOND ONLY TO WHAT WAS ASKED OR STATED as briefly and succinctly as possible. Do not color outside the verbal lines.

MateyandFloydresized.jpg

4. Be water. Water can reshape itself, moving into places where other things can’t go, seeping unnoticed into corners and crevices and, over time, cause irreversible changes.

Water_BanffResized.jpg

5. Above all, be kind to yourself.

BeKindToYourself.jpg

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Strange rites of passage and no bullshit: Welcome, 2017!

11330011_10152807112697105_2263913100655354905_n

Running toward a no-bullshit 2017!

2016 is in the rear-view mirror. Last night, we attended a New Year’s Eve party at a house we’ve been lucky enough to be invited to for the past several Dec. 31sts.  The host (a guy about my age) remarked that, “We’re old enough that the people who influenced us are starting to die off.”

william_christopher

William Christopher as “Father Mulcahy”

The observation was his response to my sharing that William Christopher, the actor who played Father Mulcahy on the sitcom “M.A.S.H.,” had joined David Bowie, Prince, George Michael, Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds, Greg Lake, Keith Emerson, Pfife Dawg, Sharon Jones, Leon Russell and others in wherever it is we End Up after we’re Not Here. (I am not discounting that we simply become ash or worm fodder, but given that death remains a Great Mystery, remain open to any and all possibilities.)

Which is one reason (shoutout to Eddie Izzard), I baked and brought a cake to the party.

(“Cake or Death,” the video, starring Eddie Izzard. Embedding was an issue, so here’s a link.)

The others were:

  1. At last year’s party, I didn’t have a job. This year, I do. That alone is worth cake.
  2. My first run at this particular cake – four layers with lemon curd filling, covered in seven-minute icing – was a month ago for my book group. It turned out well, but I wanted to try it again with a few tweaks. (ie: Upping the tart factor to showcase the lemon and getting the icing to not be so runny. I succeeded with the former, not so much with the latter.)
  3. There’d be a guaranteed gluten-free dessert, which could be my little secret.
lemoncakespy20161231

I need to figure out how to make the icing less runny.

The party seemed less crowded this year. One difference was the absence of vote trollers. Last year, going into an election season, there were a lot of “bright young things” (quotes intentional) sparkling up the front room, willingly engaging with anyone they considered worthy (each other) and pretty much ignoring the rest of us. I’m not entirely sad that the only bright young things there this year were the regular wonderful ones, and not just because (huzzah!) it meant more grilled tenderloin for the rest of us.

grilledtenderloinstandin

This  is from another party featuring tenderloin. I didn’t take any pictures last night.

Tenderloin and cake aside, it’s good to assess where we’ve been, where we’re going, and what’s happening around us at various points along the way.

Which, for those of us old enough to have children in their 20s, 30s and 40s (whether or not we actually do), might be causing a few … twinges.

auntlunch

In keeping with the food theme, here’s some “where we’ve been,” featuring adult children and elders.

Those children are adults, with all the responsibilities and privileges that word carries. And, at the same time, as Kevin wisely observes, the generation-up people we saw as heroes and role models – and some similarly-situated age peers – are dying within the time frame of a normal life span. (Some are at the younger end of that spectrum, but still within the boundaries of “normal.”)

Getting old enough to die at the point where no one is shocked at how “too young” you were is a strange rite of passage. I don’t spend a ton of time brooding about what that means, but I would be lying if I said I never thought about it at all.

me_not_brooding

Me (right), not brooding. And probably not acting my age, either. 

As what is shaping up to be a surreal and potentially interesting interval in the life the world as we know it, or to put it more succinctly, 2017, commences, I’m trying to keep an open mind about things.

One certainty that is becoming clearer is making the best use of the time I have in front of me. Part of that involves making more words, more cake, taking the best possible care I can of the people I love and of the world in which I live.

Regarding that last, loving the world in which I live means doing my bit to create the one I want to leave for everyone else. Seeing the world as it is and not as I want it to be isn’t easy. Talking honestly about it isn’t always politic. But unless you’re willing to look at – and call by name – what’s happening in front of you, you’ll never be able to change it.

So, 2017, here’s a toast. L’Chaim and no bullshit.

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‘Big Brother meets the digital Third World’ or ‘I wrote a paper in 2008. Check it out.’

graddayselfie

I don’t have any pictures of myself writing papers, so this graduation morning photo will have to do.

In summer of 2008, I took an Ethics of Information class. Our final project was a paper on the topic of our choice.

I wanted to look at what I saw as the New Third World – the way on-line information about us could and was possibly already being used to exploit us, make our lives worse, keep us from getting jobs, bank loans and or other essential and quality-of-life goods. The haves got the good stuff, the rest of us would unknowingly become citizens of a borderless Third World nation.

Sunday’s New York Times featured an editorial entitled “The Secret Agenda of a Facebook Quiz.”

I just finished reading it.

My response is to post my paper here for anyone to read, learn from and possibly follow up on and extend. It’s long, but it may be one of the most important things I’ve written. I haven’t updated it, but would be interested in feedback from anyone brave enough to get through it. (It’s not written in academ-ese; my prof said she wanted my own voice.)

Click on the link below.

lis661finalpaper

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