Sunday, July 31, 2011

What is your Dream-Life?

After looking at pictures of a friend's life in Africa and pictures of what seemed like a daily safari, a question crept up on me and it hasn't let me go. The question was: What would your perfect life be, Denese, if you had it to fashion all over again? I know that I am a 53 year old captive, by my own design by the way, of my family life here in Louisiana; but still, it's a question I have to ask as I go forward on this journey, which might last another 30 or more years.

Here are a few of the things that come to mind:

1. I need to live on or within steps of the water, preferably the Ocean or Gulf, but rivers and lakes will do;
2. Give me a walking/biking and skating path outside my door to trip about on in the early morning after I wake;
3. Let me walk or if I have to drive, give me an ultra short drive to my dry cleaners, favorite coffee shop, restaurant, library and bookstore;
4. I need to live within walking or mass transportation distance from cultural activities, like the theater, opera and art museums; Please save me from suburbia and/or commutes and the strip malls and concrete avenues that come with them: they depress me;
5. Let me gather with like-minded individuals who understand there is a need to focus on things that count (e.g., fair treatment and rights of human beings, poverty, racism, adequate nutrition, happiness) and not things that don't (like issues that are manufactured by isms, including but not limited to anti-gay marriage);
6. Bless me with meaningful work paid to a degree that I can support myself in the present and in retirement, with a little left over to help my kids/grandkids/friends. Even when I'm old, give me the opportunity to contribute and be rewarded for what I give;
7. And let me live in a place where "community" is possible. To know the bonds of friendship, conversation, shared food and drink over a long span of time is priceless. No matter the amenities of the physical space where I live, that's something I don't want to give up (again).

Please help me to find such a place not only in Oregon in the summer, but in Louisiana for the other 9 months out of the year. I've waited an awfully long time (18 years) to realize these dreams that are central to who I am. I've put in my time for everyone else and I think I'm due.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

This is still my country & I'm fighting for & celebrating it

For the last 10 years or so I feel like I've been fighting a battle to reclaim the heart and soul of my country (one person at a time). In this effort I spend an inordinate amount of time:

  • arguing with bloggers who think that the individual mandate in health insurance reform is unconstitutional. 
  • wrangling with co-workers who think that we should be able to do whatever we wish, even if that means shirking our responsibility to shoulder our own weight (and sometimes a little bit extra if we can) in the social contract we call our society.
  • debating with folks who claim that they don't owe their neighbors anything.
  • and tangling with those who think that the middle class should support public goods and services but exempt corporations and the rich from those same responsibilities.

I'm tired of lecturing people who don't have compassion for their fellow human beings. A lot of good it does. But, you already knew that.

No argument I can drum up, no matter how persuasive, is going to convince my increasingly Libertarian-minded friends and family that they should do anything for anyone else unless they choose to do so at any specific period in time. This apparently leaves out supporting legislation for assistance of any kind because someone else might not want to give in the same way or in the same amount that I do. My question is, "When will your act of benevolence occur, when you're passing the plate during Christmas services?"

This brings me to what has become my biggest fight of all-- maintaining my Christian orientation. Many of the people who thrum the drumbeat of Individual Freedom, State's Rights and Anti-Federalism are Christians. I am one of the few people I know who still labels herself a Christian. Most of my compassionate friends have abandoned Christianity because of that community's move towards conservatism, individualism, anti-multiculturalism, anti-minority, anti-poor and anti-anyone or anything that is not successful. Since when were vulnerabilities considered weaknesses-- or an abandonment by God?

Buddhism is much more appealing to people who think like me, because of the philosophy's concept of Oneness. I was brought up with this concept in my Christian home, but honestly, I am hard pressed to find it articulated in mainstream Christian circles today. I think this is because you can't market it very well with the self-obsessed.

So, what am I to do? I could get "with the program." Honestly-- I get the idea of reaping rewards for belonging to the right (religious/ethnic) group. It's an easy spirit to groove to: tantalizingly simple and self-affirming. It's great being right and therefore chosen and living a life of abundance without guilt. I've had a lot of success in my life so it's easy to correlate the two (success and Christianity, that is).

The truth is that my conscience won't let me do this, which is unfortunate because it would sure be a lot easier if it would. You see, I *know* that in large part I've gotten to where I am because of  our family resources, the color of our skin, and the hearts of my parents and in-laws who have lifted us up with consistent emotional and financial support over so many years. I can't imagine not having a family to bail us out of too many doctor bills or tuition payments (for grad or preschool). I don't know what we would have done as a young family without my parents buying us a mattress, bringing us a chicken, or buying me a dress for graduation.

I know everyone doesn't have the support I do.

So helping others with health insurance, which I consider a necessity-- no, more than that, a fundamental right-- is one of the easier decisions I've made. Plus, I can live with myself. I sleep at night.

So, Happy Independence Day from a Patriot who will keep on fighting.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

When Another Woman Inspires Your Partner-- Thinking Through My Response

Rich is home from Portland and in fine spirits. He is up early, singing to himself as he readies himself for work. He kisses me goodbye on the forehead before he darts out of the house and into his truck for the commute to work. He was so unusually kind and attentive last night (as compared to his moody demeanor for the last many months) as we ate dinner and watched my Netflix-movie-picks (he usually hates them, by the way) that I had to ask him about the reason for his change of heart and new bouyant persona.

Given that opening-- and my seemingly innocuous, non-threatening invitation to share-- he felt comfortable enough to tell me that the impetus for his jolly change of heart came from his heart-to-heart with a female, Chinese collaborator, with whom he talked at length for the past week when he was at his annual meeting out-West.

Deep in-take of breath, trying to maintain my composure. Big smile.

I hear that the topic of conversation for this very "Christian" woman and my "Agnostic" husband is--doing the right thing, acting the right way, being the right partner. Apparently, he's been moved by her example (her experience-- she's engaged).

Tell me why I'm not thrilled over this development?...Isn't any vehicle for the dissemination of important news heaven-sent? Why do I feel so suspicious?

I should be thankful. Right?

Friday, May 6, 2011

Why I Keep My Mother at Home

My mother has mid-stage probable Alzheimer's Disease or some related dementia and as my friend Susan says, "has become toxic." This week she is suspicious of and furious with me because of the form we need to fill out for her Long Term Care (LTC) Insurer. It requires her caregiver to mark the amount of time she spends on each task listed at the bottom of the form. Toileting, transferring, bathing and other Activities of Daily Living (ADL) are arrayed in the little box at the end of the page. So are "constant supervision due to cognitive limitations" and "medication supervision," as well as "cuing" for other ADLs, all of which apply. The major task in taking care of my mother is to be present, as she shouldn't be home alone anymore for the whole day. And when one of mom's three insidious chronic diseases present themselves, she needs ferrying to the doctor's office sometimes multiple times a day. Plus, someone should be there to make sure she eats, is safe getting in and out of the shower and dressing.

The problem comes because my mother doesn't think anything is wrong with her so she wants her caregiver to mark down only that she does "housekeeping," which is clearly not just unreimbursable but is likely to get the LTC policy discontinued. This weekend she accused me of making her caregiver commit fraud by lying on the insurance form.

And then today she tried to sell a Currier and Ives print from my childhood without telling me. She asked both of my children if they wanted it, but not me. I think she is trying to hurt me. My eldest says I'm making more of it than it is. My husband agrees with me. And here you see the beginning of a feud in my own home.

Therein lies much of the problem.

I have these forms spread out on my kitchen table, trying to fill out the ones that need tending so that mom gets reimbursed. Mom showed up in our bedroom today where I was hiding out, and wanted to see every form before I mail it, which means I have to confront her with the truth, which means that mom will be furious and life will be very nasty for a long, long time, or at least every week when I have to deal with LTC housekeeping. I did not sleep last night.

I really think that subterfuge and lying are the way to go here.  Agree with her to her face, and send in the forms like crazy behind her back.

Our family therapist, mom's physician and a friend all tell me that maybe it's time for mom to be moved to a more appropriate environment, if only to save my sanity, marriage and possibly my relationship with my mother. However, sending her away seems like breaking a sacred trust. Just as I wouldn't send my husband away in similar circumstances, or my children, I wouldn't send my mother away. So, other than that, why do I keep my mother here in my house?

I think while writing, so I thought that writing the reasons mom should be at home would help me to better consider my alternative courses of action. So, here we go...

My mother lives in an addition on our house because:
  • She took care of me for the first 18 years of my life, sometimes when I was not so loveable and I owe her the gift of living where she wants to live.
  • She has helped us tremendously as a married couple with emotional support (when she was able) and financial support (when she was cognitively intact) and we owe her this much.
  • She paid for the beautiful addition on our house where she lives; we committed to caring for her and shouldn't renege on that promise unless we can come up with the money the addition is worth to set her up in another living arrangement. The sky will fall before that happens.
  • I'm a gerontologist and I know what happens to elders who are moved without their consent; they die.
  • She shouldn't be moved unless she wants to move.
  • She paid for a LTC policy and has the money to bring in a caregiver to take care of many of her needs during the day, which lightens the burden on us.
  • Paying for a nursing home or other extended care arrangement would be like throwing away money because her LTC policy wouldn't be needed or used; what a waste.
  • She is a part of our family; our children, grandchildren, grand nieces and nephews love having her here; so do we, but less and less often these days.
  • Her garden improves our quality of life; if she wasn't here it would be a weed bed or filled with stones and ugly red bark dust.
  • What would I do without my mother's love, because surely I would lose it if I moved her?
  • I could never forgive myself.
  • And finally: Some things you just do.
    I knew that there was never another course of action but to keep mom at home, but writing it out helps me see the many reasons why that's so. At this point, if I could just get her to stop barging into our house to use our washing machine (she has a beautiful one in her own place) I think that half of the battle would be won.

    Sunday, March 13, 2011

    The Nuclear Energy Issue and Other Ill-Fated Policies

    The probable meltdowns that are now occurring at two (now the press says three) nuclear power plants in Japan started me thinking, again about the issue of nuclear power. You would think that as an intelligent people, we've had sufficient warnings of the risks involved in using nuclear power. I remember the Chernobyl meltdown and the Three Mile Island disaster, and know of people that have probably been exposed to nuclear radiation as a result of each.

    This situation with nuclear power reminds me of another ill-fated energy issue: the recent recent BP disaster on one of their deep water drilling rigs in the Gulf of Mexico that spread 205 gallons of crude oil along 280 or so miles of the Louisiana coastline just last year. Not enough redundant safety systems, and those that they had were probably never going to be sufficient.

    Where there's money involved, we will apparently find it impossible to err on the side of safety or sanity.

    Despite how unlikely an event is judged to be, if the worst case scenario is an unremediable disaster that we can't figure out how to prevent, then it seems to me we shouldn't do it. Economic benefit/cost analyses be damned, particularly where the economists involved have an economic interest in the venture, whether they rely on employment in the oil company or the governmental agency regulating it.

    The value they place on things like clean air and water are just made up numbers anyway. Sort of like the valuation of life years involved in the Pinto (Ford) debacle. The "fix" to their fuel system would have cost them $11 per car, but the cost/benefit analysis came out on the side of not fixing the design flaw ($50 million dollars' value placed on deaths versus the $137 million dollars it would have cost them to fix their cars). At least jurors had the right idea, awarding $128 million dollars in damages in the first court case, which was trimmed back by $125 million by the appellate judge, as a "matter of law."

    If I had to bet on endeavors of the human race versus acts of nature (or chaos) I'd go with nature/chaos every time.

    But I digress:
    In pondering, writing, speaking to friends and researching the effects of nuclear radiation, I came across information that led me to believe that my mother, a cancer survivor might be eligible for compensation for living near nuclear testing sites. Apparently if you lived in certain counties in Nevada from 1951 to 1958 for 2 years and you got cancer (from bladder to brain to breast-- there's a list) you're called a "downwinder" and there's a trust set up for you by the US government to compensate you for being exposed to their 200 some nuclear tests --and, bonus, you get $50,000. My mother-- who had  breast breast cancer twice, lived in Reno, NV in the county of Washoe in the early 1950s. Alas, too far to the west.

    Here is the website for the Radiation Exposure Compensation Fund:

    The "downwinders compensation fund" was only established via an amendment to a federal statute for miners and military employees, in the year 2000.

    Here is my family Atlas. The yellow areas are those where the "downwinders" can receive compensation for radiation exposure from nuclear testing
    Another friend just suggested that mom might have been exposed to radiation from nuclear waste from the Hanford Plant that has seeped into the water tables in Oregon and Washington. My mother was raised in Grays River, WA and lived in Portland, OR for most of her life. And it is true that all of our proximate neighbors on 23rd Street in Portland had cancers, mostly breast cancers that weren't fatal. However, our neighbors to the rear of us were stricken with breast cancer (the mom) and a lymphoma (the son, my age) that caused both of their deaths.

    Post Script:

    Now the Japanese press is saying that the wind is blowing toward the ocean and not toward the populace in the vicitinities involved. That's supposed to be good news. What a consolation. What about my people on the West Coast?

    Sunday, February 13, 2011

    My Life's Lesson

    I know my Life's Lesson.

    It should be etched on my brain because I keep forgetting it, and that act of forgetting triggers some cosmic event that makes me remember it over and over again. This weekend it was an event with my son J that whacked me back into alignment. The thromping always hurts, and not less each time, like you might suppose would happen, considering that I replay the lesson again and again.

    It all started on Friday night. The whole family went to a dinner in honor of one of LSU's best alumni fundraisers-- a dear friend and the children's surrogate grandfather. I was proud of all of us for showing up, despite having to meet a report deadline that night, in R's case; despite no babysitter and little grandchildren in attendance, in D & B's case; and despite it taking up a chunk of a Friday night, in J's case.

    So, there I was basking in the glow of my priorities-in-alignment-family when J and I began to hyperfocus on each other. He thought I was moving too fast, and talking too loud, and I thought he seemed a little too pulled apart, at loose ends; discombobulated. I'm like Pavlov's Dog. Once I see what I think are signs of a lack of focus, I start drilling him on his life. How's school? Is he going to class? Is he studying? How are his grades? Should he be going to that outdoor concert, on Spring Break, out later? This despite him getting great grades last semester, and "A"cing all of his tests last week.

    This makes him talk louder, move quicker and back away. The last text I received from him before bed was, "there is always some sort of miscommunication between us."


    And even if these great academic accomplishments were lacking, I mean, really, is it my nagging that is going to steer him on the right course? I think not.

    So, what's my Life's Lesson?

    My lesson is the pain I inflict on myself and my loved ones when I try to control them. It's not like I want to keep J -- or anyone else for that matter -- from having fun. Really. It's just that I don't want him to do anything that would make him experience something bad. So: go to class everyday; do your homework; get enough sleep; don't overdo it; find a nice girl; Then you won't: get bad grades; drop your classes; flunk out of school; lose your scholarship; be arrested; get hurt.

    You think this is normal for a mother, don't you? Well, I did too until I realized -- over and over again unfortunately -- that if he doesn't experience these "bad" things, or others like them for himself he won't be able to learn the life skills to be able to achieve the very things I want for him.

    It's not when will he ever learn?

    It's when will I ever learn?

    I am so dense.

    It's not the things I want for him.

    It's the things he wants for himself.

    Sunday, January 9, 2011


    I don't have a political commentary to report following the shootings on Saturday in Tuscon, AZ. What I do want to do is to create a space to remember them, in the case of Judge John Roll and to pray for their recovery, in the case of Gabrielle Giffords. I think we need to center ourselves on what is good and right before we can plan a way forward that is good and right.

    I will leave it to others to go after the inciters, as I can tell that by focusing on agitators like Bill O'Reilly and Sarah Palin that I will sink into the abyss of hatred. I don't want to do that. I would rather that they and others of their ilk would become irrelevant in the shadow of a political movement designed around love, understanding and reconciliation. That might sounds stupid but it didn't at various times in the history of our world. We had Martin Luther King, Jr., India had Gandhi, I know that Sri Lanka has Dr. Ariyaratne.

    So, I am thinking about how to proceed. I think one thing is for sure, and that's that I'll become involved in politics in some concrete way at the local level. Writing is good. Talking is good. Action is better.

    So, God Bless the deceased. Let us not let their lives to have been lost in vain.
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