Posts Tagged With: home

Simple Gifts

There’s a lovely Shaker hymn written in 1848 — “Simple Gifts.”  I’ve always loved the tune, and the words are just as beautiful as the tune itself:

“Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free

‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,

And when we find ourselves in the place just right,

‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.”

The first stanza is what looped in my head all day as I stayed home, alternately sleeping and reading.

What a joy it is to have the simple gift of a home itself, a sanctuary, a place of safety.  So many people don’t have the opportunity or the chance, and far too often we take our own homes for granted.  As I read through the news today, I was reminded just how fortunate I am.

The home itself, built in the 1920s, is a cottage or bungalow style, built on piers.  After all, in the coastal areas that architecture makes sense.  There are lots of large windows as well (and now they open, too, and have screens) so that breezes can circulate and cool the house.  Of course, in the heat of summer — which starts early and stays late here — it’s much more comfortable to use the air-conditioning.  In fall, though, as soon as the temperatures drop, it’s a treat to simply open a couple of windows and allow the breezes to circulate.

Because it’s older and on piers, some floors aren’t level.  Truly.  There’s an actual hump in the kitchen, right in front of the stove.  If I stand barefoot, my arch can actually curve to fit it.  Short of pulling the entire floor up and re-building, I’m not sure I can fix this.  Somewhere in the past, that board simply warped and settled.

Nor is the only such quirk in my home.  For years, before I discovered that there wasn’t a support beam anywhere from the living room to the back (and had one put in), the house wasn’t level — it was so not level that you could drop a tennis ball in the living room and watch it roll through the kitchen and the laundry room to the back room.  The house is more level now, and the floors no longer offer quite the fun of tennis-ball dropping.

It’s a modest home by many standards, but I fell in love with it as soon as I walked in the front door the first time.  The large windows in the living room allowed natural light to flood the room.  Since it’s a north-facing room, that’s really nice.  The bedrooms are east-facing, also nice for gentle light.

Over the years, I’ve added my own touches.  I’ve re-painted rooms.  I’ve renovated in earlier projects, but now am involved in yet more renovation.  Years ago my brother Phil pulled out the kitchen sink and lower cabinets and built new cabinets, neat and shelved and even put in some drawers.  About that same time I put down stick-tiles, but that wasn’t a wise choice.  These have popped and broken, and I am now in the process of beginning to pull them up.  New upper cabinets have been built and are soon to replace the older ones.  As those are done, one more coat of paint on the walls should do it.  Then I’ll get the lower cabinets repainted as well.  Finally, I want a new countertop and sink — I’m thinking of granite or quartz, something clean and simple.  Aqua walls above, white wainscot below — and aqua lower cabinets, white upper cabinets.  New flooring — sheet vinyl, probably, because of the uneven floor itself — will follow.

There are other areas I’m ready to work on.  The living room needs to have the old, crumbling paneling replaced.  The ceiling tiles there are falling down, so I’d like something simple to cover the ceiling.

For so long I too took this home for granted.  It was such a place of joy and comfort for a while.  Later, though, as my mother and brother were ill and after they died (in the 90s) it became more of a place to sleep, less of a home to entertain friends.

It was more of a refuge then.  On Fridays, I’d come home and shut the front door, often staying home all weekend.  Stressful work environment and life needed some kind of balance, and this house provided it.  I simply existed in it, though it did provide me that respite from the craziness of my life beyond it.

Then as Dad’s health worsened, I spent more time with him and less time here.  Moving in with him meant I was living in the bedroom I had when I was 16.  I moved essentials of my life there.  On weekends, I could visit my own home.  There wasn’t much time, however, for working on it or for actually living in it.

But that was interesting and revealing, too.  I learned about myself and how flexible I can be.  What is essential for me.  I occupy a house about 1800 square feet, and live alone (other than the three cats and two dogs).  Yet I have lived in a 12×13 ft. bedroom, with a small area in Dad’s living room for a computer desk.  And a card-table for a work desk.

Now I live in my home again and relish the opportunities to refresh it, to open it once more to friends.  I anticipate that.  I also recognize that such renovations will not happen overnight.  I have learned patience.  I have also learned, through living in Dad’s house while renovating it, to live in the midst of such chaos.  And to make order as I can, both mentally and physically.

Right now I am in the room that was once my bedroom, a room about 13 feet square.  Now it is an office, with no pretense at being a secondary bedroom.  I have my desktop computer and printer and my beautiful Texas-star-cornered black walnut desk.  My craft tables and materials are also in here.  As I sit here, I can look beyond the computer to a wall unit that my dad built me when I was in high school.  I wanted some kind of bookcase/storage/makeup area to fit my high-school status.  He couldn’t afford to buy the furniture but he built this piece for me.  It’s been painted since then but it has a pride of place wherever I am.

Much of my furniture, in fact, is a mix of family hand-me-downs and “store-bought” furniture.  Some was bought new.  Some was bought at flea markets or antique malls.  The blend works for me.

It’s not a house that will grace the pages of Southern Living or House Beautiful.  It’s not elegant.  My friend Patty says it’s “eclectic,” and she’s right.

I can sit in the large rocker in the living room, a gift from my grandmother Ella that belonged to her parents; I have the matching love seat too.  One of my earliest memories is sitting in that very rocker, then covered with red velvet I think, in my great-grandparents’ living room — and I’m so young that my feet barely reach the edge of the seat.

If I go to the kitchen and want to make gumbo, I use a pot that my grandmother Ella gave me when I moved to Beaumont to teach at Lamar University.  There are other pots and pans, of course, but that pot is one that is special.  If I want to make fudge, I use the bottom of a pressure-cooker that my mother always used, a pot that Mother gave me at some point.  We’ve made so much fudge in it that the line where the fudge boils up to is clearly marked if you look hard enough.

If I wanted to, I could sit on my front porch and watch people without fear.  I have neighbors I know well enough to wave to, to talk to, to visit with.

What a simple gift it has been today to stay home, recovering from sinus problems.  I could sleep without worrying that someone would break in or bomb me or use poison gas.  I could walk to the kitchen, open the refrigerator or freezer and find food with no problems.  Water from the tap was fine to drink.  A stove and microwave meant that I could cook.  If I needed, I could put laundry on to wash and then dry without leaving my home or without worry.  I had extra clothes, in themselves a gift.

I could talk to friends on the telephone or text them.  I could turn on a television or listen to music.

Television allows me to watch any number of programs.  Internet opens the world yet more to me.

My pets are fed and watered.  They are cared for, not wandering the streets searching for food.

And I can take antibiotics that my doctor prescribed and that a pharmacy filled, using health insurance I can afford, with a low co-pay.

Tomorrow when I meet a friend for early coffee (he has faculty meetings tomorrow since McNeese State University’s fall term begins on Monday), I have a car that I can depend upon.

These are gifts, gifts from the work I did for years, from the savings I have, from the pension I’ve earned.

I am surrounded by gifts, gifts from loving family and friends.  Gifts from my own work. Gifts from opportunities for women that don’t exist in other parts of the world.  I went to school and was able to make teaching literature and composition my career.  I can travel without permission from my male relatives.  I can make my own financial decisions, sign my own legal papers.

Simple gifts.  Gifts to cherish.

Today was a good day to be grateful.

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Home Again, Home Again

When you’re young, travel has a romantic appeal.  The realities of transit sort of get ignored.  Maybe the problems and discomforts even have a certain appeal– for the first few times, anyway. By the time you’re my age, though, the logistics just are part of the planning, and often require patience and endurance.  My budget doesn’t stretch to first-class, or even business-class.  Though I would love to indulge in that, when it comes time to pay for a ticket, I just think how many more tickets I could get if I continue to fly economy, so I do.  Anyway, I figure that my immigrant ancestors probably came steerage, so I’m simply honoring them.  I do dream about a first-class experience at some time, though.

In the meantime, I endure the ups and downs of tight layovers and transfers to other flights.  I measure my bags and weigh them, careful to meet the guidelines of individual airlines.  And usually I pay for a second bag when I travel to Greece since I buy linens and things for the apartment and can get better quality for less in the U.S.  I arrange for taxi pickups and transfers.  I arrange my travel myself.  It’s do-it-yourself travel, at least as much as possible.

There’s not much left for me with the romanticism of travel, not with the actual getting there and getting back.  That’s just necessary. The joys of backpacking are still with me, but now I want to sleep in a nice bed, in a room with a private toilet, and with some amenities.  Not on a train overnight or in an airport lounge, not if I can help it.

But being someplace and getting around?  That still has its original appeal, even after (hard to believe) nearly 40 years of traveling internationally.  But now for me travel is more than tourist sites to be checked off a list.  Now, I visit a site or two, but I spend time walking, looking, shopping and observing people.  When I want to, I find a coffee shop and sit for a drink, watching what goes on.  I take out my journal.  I write.  I take photos.  I don’t feel the need to rush from site to site.  I savor the whole experience.  I am a traveler rather than a tourist.

For example, when I went to London in May, I was only there for a long weekend.  One of my objectives was to see the special Pompeii exhibit at the British Museum; I got my ticket for the day before I left London, and that left me two and a half other days.  I went to Covent Garden and to Neil’s Yard, shopping and watching the buskers around Covent Garden’s Apple Market.  I bought cheese and bread for my room for eating dinner.  I usually ate lunch while I was out and about.  I wandered on the Tube a few stations away from my hotel for that.  I wandered only one stop away for Saturday’s Portobello Market.  Once more, I walked and shopped, took photos, sat and had a pint of cider, wandered more, bought some prints, sat and had a glass of wine after eating.  I listened to street musicians.

One evening I met a friend for drinks and caught up with her at a pub I knew.  I hadn’t seen her in far too long, and that was so nice.  Her late brother was a dear friend, and it was great to be able to share memories and catch up on the news about her two children, who have grown up.  My last night, another friend met me at the hotel bar for some wine and good conversation.

While I wandered around Kensington, and in Covent Garden, and in Bayswater, I found myself fantasizing about living in London, at least temporarily.  One day, I promised myself, I would do so — I would find a short-term let and stay in London for a month or so.  And so I plan to do, maybe in the next year.

Even for such a short trip, the realities of transit get tedious.  By the time I made it back to my place in Athens, all I wanted to do was take a hot shower and clean up. There was a clear sense of relief at returning, even from a short trip.  I was home.

Living out of a suitcase in a hotel isn’t so much fun as being someplace, but I put up with it.    It’s a necessary element.

A second trip in June took me to Istanbul and once more I just liked being there.  I was traveling with someone who’d never been there before, so I did more tourist-sightseeing than I might have, in a quick two days.  Next year (or whenever I return), I might well stay in the same little hotel, near the Blue Mosque, and just wander more.  I want to return to the Spice Market and get lost wandering around.  I want to go to the small bazaar near the Blue Mosque.  More time to sit and watch, that’s what I want.

Once more returning to Athens, getting back to the apartment was being home.

I love being in my “other” life, as I’ve come to think of it.  Since I am not really a tourist, I don’t do a lot of sightseeing unless I have company, and I had three visitors in three months.  Generally I putter around the apartment, do domestic things, and read a lot.  There are days when I do nothing except read murder mysteries or biographies or science fiction.  Sometimes I re-read through an entire series over a week.  Certainly I grocery shop, I pay bills, and I sit in favorite coffee shops. I meet friends for coffee or dinner.  I write.  I surf the internet.

Quite simply, the apartment is home.  When I first arrive and open the building door and first see my apartment door, I feel such relief, and then when I actually open the apartment door and enter, there’s almost no way to describe that feeling except the body itself seems to sigh and I feel “I’m home.”  And I relax completely.   I turn on the water heater for the bathroom (“boiler,” as it’s labeled in my switch box), grab a couple of shopping bags, and walk half a block and across the street to the supermarket, the “Bazaar.”  I load up, walk up the incline to the building, and let myself in.  I put up groceries and staples.  I shower and change.  I get online to email my sister and friends that I’ve arrived safely and am comfortable.  Then I cook something to eat, wash dishes, and head to bed with a book, ready to collapse.  After all, at that point, I’ve probably been up for something like 30 hours.  Only the next day will I unpack suitcases, and it will take another couple of days to sort out what I need from storage cabinets.

As much as it’s home, there always comes a point during a 3-month stretch that I find myself homesick for my other home.  Or homes.  I’m homesick for my car, for being able to drive somewhere, anywhere.  For my pets.  For my family and friends.  For American conveniences.  For Southern / Texan/Cajun cultures to envelop me.  For the quiet of my home as well. The pull of responsibilities kicks in, too.

Emerson was right about travel:  You can’t escape your problems when you travel; you simply take them with you.  At times I know that I have traveled for temporary escape (and probably will do so again, frankly), for the time and space to sort out something and return ready to deal with it.  I know better than to believe that running away means you can leave troubles behind.   I know that I will not escape anything, that such traveling is “a fool’s paradise,” as Emerson says in “Self-Reliance.”

Travel is also to enrich, to learn. No matter how many times I go to London, there’s always more to discover, as there is in Greece or Istanbul or Italy.  There’s always another country I haven’t been to yet, another culture to explore.

But travel can also be a respite, a kind of recuperative time for contemplation.  If anything, I come to value my American home and to weigh its pros and cons.  I know that I will, at some point, be homesick.

And when that homesickness comes, it’s usually at the time when I’m winding down, packing up the things that stay in the storage cabinets in the apartment, packing the suitcase(s) that will return with me.  That is a kind of limbo time.  I tell friends that there is a sort of “click” that goes off in my head and that I’m already transitioning for the return and re-immersion into my American life.  That usually is the last week of my time in Greece.

When I finally get back to my house in Lake Charles, there is a similar physical relaxation, a sigh of “I’m home again.”  I close the door and check that my world is still in place, waiting for me.

And then there’s that word:  home.  Home is where I am.  Home is here, in Lake Charles, in the house I’ve owned since 1986 or so.  In Egan, in the house I’ve known since I was 16.  In Texas, at the family farm or at the beach house my sister and I rebuilt.  Home is my family, my friends, my pets.  It’s not the physical places, as comfortable and known as those places are.

No, it’s a state of mind, of being.  It’s that moment of sighing into a return.  That moment of recognition, of total comfort, of release.

So now I’m home.  Again.  And rediscovering the joys of here, wherever here happens to be.  Time away gives me time to reassess, to renew, and when I return, I return with a new vision and appreciation, ready to tackle things, ready to go.

Tomorrow I’ll have been home here for a week.  It feels right.

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To Spiti Mou (My House)

To be absolutely correct — my apartment.  My 47 square meters of Greekness.  That’s roughly 505 square feet, I think.

Thursday I arrived in the domestic terminal at Eleftherios Venizelos Airport in Athens.  I picked up my bag, changed some money, and got to the taxi stand.  Not knowing what to expect in terms of costs, I was pleased to see an announcement about a flat rate of 35 euros to the center of Athens, and to my surprise that was accurate.  Before I’d been in Athens an hour, I was getting into my apartment.

Everything looked good — clean, in place.  Once I rolled the suitcase into the bedroom and the carry-on stayed in the living room, I gathered my money and keys and headed down the street to the supermarket.  Three plastic bags and a filled backpack later, I was back in the kitchen unloading things.  Except garbage bags.  Of course I’d forget that.

I unzipped the big suitcase and began throwing clothes into two piles, whites and others.  The whites got piled into the washer and soon that first load was filling.  I got a big glass of cold sparkling water, sat down and tried to get onto the Internet.  Since I’d gotten a new provider in December before I left, I hadn’t actually used the new service.  I had a piece of paper with what appeared to be the password.  Wrong.

After a while, I simply gave up.  Maybe I was too tired, I figured, to get it right.  Maybe I needed a nap.

So I lay down about 2.  When I finally woke up it was 7.  So much for not being tired!  Unloading the washer, I took the whites out to the balcony to hang on my wire clothes dryer.  Then the second load went into wash.  I read for a while, watched some TV, and cooked some spaghetti.

By 9, I was back in bed, reading again.  Sleep came quickly after about 10 p.m.

No alarm woke me — and unless that’s necessary, I won’t be using one for a while.  I simply woke up, checked the clock, and began to sort through the other suitcase items.  I simply created like piles on the floor.  Laundry in, laundry out.  Puttered around a while, trying internet.  Finally got an answer I’d emailed to the Athens Centre about the password, and I was online again with no trouble.  Turns out that on the bottom of the modem there’s a key listed there.  Who knew?

Anyway, I was connected to cyberspace again, and so I logged on for a while.  Then it was back to reading, watching television, and reading.

About 4, I left to meet friends at my favorite hangout, Cafe Libre.  First I stopped at the corner Jumbo store (a department store) for a few items, then picked up a bottle of cold water and some trolley/tram/bus tickets.  I walked a couple of blocks to the trolley stop and sat down, waiting for the #4.  Once it came, I climbed on, sat down, and waited for my stop.  Three stops later, I got off across the street from the cafe, walked over, and sat down with my friends.

We chatted for several hours, catching up about everything.  Elections, especially, came into the conversation.  We compared notes about what we’d seen and observed.  Phil and George and I agreed that this time around, people seemed more resigned to a hard time ahead, no matter which party “won.” No one knows what will happen — but everyone speculates about the first step, forming a coalition government.  What will it do?  Will it have any chance of success?  The winning party, New Democracy, followed by Syriza and then Pasok, are the top winners and only Pasok agreed to cooperate.  Yet Pasok didn’t provide many key figures.  So here we are, watching Samaras (the new Prime Minister) and wondering what will happen.

The elections were on Sunday, the day after the wedding, and that meant lots of people traveled to their home precincts to vote.  That’s one reason we rented the Jeeps — the buses were going to be packed.  But the Jeeps were frankly more convenient anyway.  I only turned the television on in my room once, that Sunday night, to see the outcome of the election.  It was over earlier and quicker than I had anticipated.

Which post office did I use, Phil asked?  The one down on Immitou near the supermarket.  Not anymore, George said. It closed.  It’s been consolidated with one farther away.  And who did I use as an electrician?  Sotiris, I answered. Once again — not anymore.  It turns out he’s gone back to his village, with his family.  I’ve read a number of articles in The Athens News and E-Kathimerini that this is the case with a growing number of young people.  In Athens, even with work, it is increasingly hard to stretch their money.  Without work, it is impossible.  So returning to their villages means they have a safety net, a support system.  They at least can eat and live with family.  So Sotiris, the young electrician I’ve used in the ten years or so I’ve had my apartment, has joined that exodus.

So the three Americans, the only people in the cafe for a long time, sat and talked Greek politics.  We also discussed the upcoming tour to Jordan that Phil and George are leading, the one I’m going on.  Everything sounds so amazing and I’m looking forward to the trip.

After I left, I took the #4 trolley back toward my place.  It is a circuitous route, but I wanted to see things, to look at stores.  Every block showed me a store (at least one) that had closed since I was last here in December.  More places are up for rent. I know that rental prices are down, because I used to get 650 euros a month for my place, and the last renter paid 500 euros a month.  This is how everyone is adapting.

I’m sure real estate values are down as well, and even so, places go unsold.  Who has the money to buy?

My ride on the trolley showed me lots of stores closed — big ones, too, not just small ones.  I was happy enough that my supermarket at the bottom of the street is still open, and that my favorite hangout, Cafe Libre, is still open.

What will things be like in the center?  I’ll go down to Syntagma on Monday, I think, because I need to go to the large electronics store there, Public.  Things are quiet enough, and no demonstrations have been announced, so I’ll be okay.

But before that, I’ve got a new problem to solve:  my key for the front door to our building doesn’t work.  Apparently, they’ve changed that lock.  That’ll be easy to take care of, IF I can figure out who collects the monthly koinochrista (sort of like HOA fees).  It’s changed, of course, and I don’t know who to contact.  I’ll have to bother the Athens Centre once more, on Monday morning, to find out.

It’ll be a quiet weekend.  And that’s fine with me.  I will enjoy my balcony later in the day when it’s cooler.  I’ll finish unpacking.

I’m home again.  To spiti mou.


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One of the radio talk shows I came to love was “Car Talk” — every Friday in October, November, and December 1995 when I’d drive to Houston to MD Anderson while Phil was there, I turned the show on and laughed.

Oh that I could call those guys up now!  One of the many details I’m handling now — what to do with the two vehicles.  I’m visiting my cousin in Houston now, and her husband helped me this morning to find values for the two vehicles.

The newer vehicle is the 2009 Silverado that Dad bought.  I remember when he did that — rather apologetically, he told me that he’d paid cash for it.  He didn’t want to leave us with a car note.  I laughed and asked him who he thought would give an 87-year-old a car note?  It’s a solid, well-taken-care-of truck, a 4-door crew cab with a towing packing.  I’ve come to enjoy driving that truck.  In fact, I’ve probably driven it much more than I’ve driven my own Mini Cooper in the last year.  But keeping it?  I don’t think so. It’s handy, certainly, and I can use it.  Yet I can’t justify the cost of keeping it — not for the few times I’d actually need it.  Right now, it is very useful for hauling things back to my own house.  But I’ll be selling it soon.

The other vehicle is one Dad cherished.  It’s a 1977 Blazer that Phil bought.  It was their hunting vehicle.  That he didn’t really use it wasn’t the point; it had been Phil’s, and thus it was kept.  Right now, Kay and I have had 3 people inquire about it, two of them young men who have ridden in it most of their lives.  Their grandfathers were friends of Dad’s, and thus they both have memories of riding in it with the two older men.  They both expressed their interest years ago to Dad, and I’ll take their interests in chronological order.  I don’t want any bad feelings about this.  I kind of like the idea of one of them owning the Blazer.  It will have a history for them too, and I can sort of feel satisfied about that for some reason.  Maybe it’s that Dad’s memory will continue along with the Blazer itself while one of them drives it.

The Silverado doesn’t have that kind of emotional history.  I’ll figure how to get the most money for it, frankly.  I may drive it to Houston to a Carmax and just let that place offer what it will, perhaps even sell it to them on the spot.

Trucks are fun, and for country kids, they’re almost always a vehicle of choice.  Certainly I live in town, and love my Mini Cooper convertible.  I must confess, though, to a certain feeling of comfort, of rightness, when I slide into the seat behind the wheel of a truck.  It’s a known, a staple of my life.  Dad always had trucks — work trucks, mostly.  But after we were older, he started buying trucks.  Mother didn’t drive anymore, so trucks were his vehicle of choice.

When I was a kid in the Egan oil field camp, most of us there had dads with work trucks.  They became part of our playground at times, too.  I remember Dad’s always had huge tool chests welded on.  And a water cooler was always attached somewhere in the bed or on the sides.

Though I learned to drive in a car (an automatic), the second vehicle I learned to drive was a truck — my granddad’s 1956 Chevy.  It was a manual shift, on the steering wheel itself.  My hands can still go through the shifts in memory.  That truck sits at the farm even now.  Many times I remember riding in the back of it as we helped throw out bales of hay for the cows, or just riding in the back as Granddad and Dad and maybe Uncle James rode in the fields to look at things.

There’s certainly a bittersweet element involved with this part of clearing up loose ends after a death.  In America we somehow often attach great personal meaning to vehicles, and so even after the owner’s death, there’s some tie to him (or her) for the family left to deal with everything.

Practical person that I am, I know they’re just hunks of metal that have particular monetary values.  I can sell them with no problems.  I’m only selling the physical items.  The memories are still mine.  Those have no price, and are not up for sale, ever.

So today’s Car Talk session has ended.  I didn’t talk to Click and Clack, but I’ve acquired the information I needed.  Those wheels are in motion.

The house itself is another matter.  Last week I met with an appraiser, paid him, and am waiting for his report.  I do have a list of repairs he suggested were necessary.  I’ve already talked to Tim, the guy who did all the renovations, about what we need, and I’ll meet him Wednesday for a quote.  I’ve paid the phone bill, and will cancel phone and Direct TV soon.  I’ve got a storage room rented already in Lake Charles waiting for stuff.

Over the weekend, I decided that the next mountain to tackle will be the double garage full of tools.  I’ll just load those up and store them, actually leaving the inventory for later.  Kay and I have already decided on furniture to store.

So the bustle in the house continues, as we disassemble the life that it held for our family since 1966.  Someone else will enjoy the house soon, I hope.  It’s been a nice little house, a friendly one.  Egan is a good little town, and people are choosing to move there.

Our family will move on.   It’s time for a new family to fill it.  A new family will move in, change it to suit their needs. I like the idea that someone will choose to live in our house.

It’ll be a home again.  I hope our family’s love lingers to welcome the new family.

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Week 2, Day 3: In the Moment

Dad’s been home now just over a week.  Every day has reinforced my sense of being more in the moment that I usually manage.  Just being in the moment has been a goal of mine since college, when I read the works of Ram Dass, especially Be Here Now.  It’s not something I ever conquered — that need to control my time, to plan my future, to spend so much time in the yet-to-come that I completely (or nearly so) ignored the beauties of the now.

That is one benefit of living with Dad now.  I can spend some time thinking ahead, but not much, really.  And I don’t assume that my plans will come to be.  No, the plans I make now are really more like possible scenarios.  Yes, that’s it — I think about possible scenarios.  But I don’t count on them.  That is only frustrating.  And disappointing.

Now I spend each day in and of itself.  I awaken to the alarm clock, get up and cook breakfast for Dad.  I give him his medicine.  I put laundry on.  I wash dishes.  I spend time with him.  I watch television.  I read.  I putter around the house and porch.  There is no particular order to these things — they just sort of happen as they are needed.

On a beautiful cool morning like today, I spend time on the front porch with my iPad, reading The New York Times and CNN online.

It’s Wednesday, which means that the home health aide comes to help bathe Dad, and today that’s wonderful.  Today has been a turning point, one bound to come, as certainly as what happened on Sunday was bound to happen.

On Sunday I was sleeping in my bed in Lake Charles, and about 8 the phone buzzed with a text from Kay.  Dad had fallen in the bathroom and she’d managed to get him up, in the wheelchair, and into bed.  What to do now, call 911?  No, I told her — call Home Health.  She did, and they said a nurse would be there in an hour.  Within 15 minutes, I’d dressed and packed and was on the road.  I was back in Egan before the nurse arrived.

After determining that the on-call doctor (who was rude and chewed the home health nurse out for calling him, adding that he’d “kill” his wife for giving out his number) would’t help by authorizing the mobile x-ray unit to visit us, the nurse arranged for an ambulance to take Dad to the ER in Crowley.  I rode with him and Kay followed in her Rav 4.  After x-rays and an exam by the ER doctor, Dad was released — luckily, no fractures, no breaks at all.  The trick:  now we couldn’t get him home by ambulance.  Kay and I managed to transport him in the Rav, and at home I got the wheelchair and we got him back to bed.

He hasn’t been able to put weight on the left leg since then.  He’s been in pain, with frequent leg and muscle and back cramps.  He cannot sit up for more than a minute or two.  He cannot use the walker at all now.

Which led to yet another dilemma:  how to transport Dad to dialysis.  On Monday morning, I talked to his primary-care physician’s office, and learned that I needed to talk to Acadian Ambulance on my own.  I did that, and within 15 minutes had arranged for transportation to dialysis.  That day I followed the ambulance to dialysis, went in with Dad, and talked to the nurse and staff about what had happened.
Then I had lunch and went home, falling into bed for a nap.  I got up, put on some laundry, and watched television while I waited for Dad’s return.  That was uneventful, and I signed all the paperwork.  The phone call later from the administrator who’d ridden with Dad was a surprise — certainly, the call was necessary since he was telling me that Dad had been evaluated and approved for such transportation (Medicare requirements), but it was also partly personal, since the administrator wanted to tell me what a treat it had been to have Dad in the ambulance.  He’d enjoyed visiting with Dad, and asked if he really had played baseball; I told him yes, that Dad had in fact played ball at the University of Texas for a short while.  Dad had reminded him of his own grandfather, and he just wanted to let me know how much he had enjoyed the trip with Dad.  Such surprises are joyful for me, because I know Dad is wonderful not just as a father but as a human being, but with such comments I have the pleasure of knowing that others appreciate him.  Even as weak as Dad is, as in pain as he is, he makes conversation warmly and with interest.

How quickly such turns can occur — on Saturday, Dad had been alert and feeling good.  He watched baseball on TV most of the day, visiting with Kay and our friend Billie.  He ate a good supper of spaghetti that Kay had made.  He had a day better than most days had been.

Yet on Sunday morning, in the bathroom after Kay had helped him get there, his legs simply buckled and he fell.  Even with nothing broken, Dad has now become less mobile, less able to assist me (or anyone) in turning or getting up or getting dressed.

He was in such pain that he wouldn’t let me change his clothes, even though I tried.  He let Billie and me help him to the bedside toilet yesterday only because I refused to let him get to the actual bathroom.  It was, in fact, a difficult task for the two of us to get him out of bed and on the bedside toilet.  He was frustrated after all of the effort, too, because nothing happened.

Pain pills help him for a time, but not long, and not enough.  By last night, I knew that I’d be calling Dad’s doctor this morning to request something more — a muscle relaxer, something, maybe stronger pain medicine.  But I knew that having him lie there and moan and yelp with pain just because he lifted his left leg (or tried to) just wasn’t acceptable.

Yet he was hungry enough to request chicken-fried steak for supper — and I had some ready to put in the oven (thanks, Walmart, for frozen chicken-fried steak patties).  With green beans and mashed potatoes and peppered milk gravy, that chicken-fried steak satisfied Dad and I was happy to see him eat almost all of his supper.  I joined him in the meal, enjoying mine too.  I cleared off the bedside table, cleaned the dishes, and sat with him for a while.  He warned me that he might have to go to the bathroom in the night — and would probably just “go right here, in the bed.”  I told him that was fine, not to worry.  Yet he was, because that was so unpleasant for him.  Dignity often goes out the door with illness, with debilitating pain.  He was embarrassed for saying this to me. I tried to reassure him that it would be okay.

By 8:30 last night, he was in more pain, so I gave him another pill as well as his night sleeping pill.  I tucked him in, kissed him goodnight, locked the door, and went to my room.  I crawled into bed, read a while, and was out by 9 pm.  I slept until 8 a.m. this morning, knowing I could.

Yet by then, Dad was awake.  I fussed because he didn’t call me earlier. Sure enough, he had indeed had to simply go to the bathroom — in his own underwear.

I quickly fed him breakfast and knew that the home health aide was coming, so I didn’t start moving him around yet.  The less of that done, the better.  She arrived, and I told her what had happened.

She cleaned him up and then bathed him and dressed him in clean clothes.  Before she left, she gave me some good tips for taking care of similar problems.  I had put out diapers, but Dad refused them.  Instead, she suggested that I look for adult pull-ups — much more like underwear, and thus more dignified while still helping me out.

Another new surprise twist in caring for Dad — and I just have to learn to deal with it.  The aide only comes once a week, and both Dad and I will have to work together now in dealing with similar incidents.  It’s an invasion of his privacy and a reduction of his dignity, I know, for his daughter to change his underwear and clean him up like a baby.  Yet there’s no one else to do it.  I’m not sure how I feel about it — I used to clean Mother up, certainly, but we were the same gender.  This is different.  I’ll make it happen, despite my own embarrassment, and Dad’s.  I’ll try to make light of it.  I want to allow him his dignity as much as possible.

And yet another unpleasant surprise came today when I called to arrange ambulance transportation to Dad’s follow-up visit to his cardiologist tomorrow (test results from the recent nuclear stress test came back with abnormal results).  Medicare and supplement insurance do not pay for ambulance transportation to a doctor’s visit!  Even a reduced-rate cost would be just over $500.  I am now waiting for a return call from the cardiologist’s nurse to see whether I can leave Dad at home and come in for a consultation without Dad.  The ambulance is tentatively scheduled in the meantime.

Unless the muscle spasms disappear, and unless Dad regains the ability to sit without such pain and use the wheelchair, I don’t know whether I can actually manage to get him into a wheelchair, into the truck, and to the office and back home again.

Not that I wouldn’t willingly use the ambulance for such an office visit, but at that cost, I know I need to be judicious in using it.

All of this makes me wonder just how our elderly manage without family.  I know that nursing homes and assisted living facilities are choices for many. They are, however, expensive, more than mere Social Security payments can cover.  Moreover, I know that for Dad, this would truly be awful — he endured the two months or so at Southwind because it was necessary, but he always knew he was coming home.

Now that he is home, I know that he’s secure in a known environment.  I’m there 24/7 during the week.  He has friends drop in for visits.  He doesn’t have a roommate who is less than thoughtful in so many ways.

He has privacy.  He has his own home around him.  He knows he is loved and cared for by his daughters, that friends are there to help.

So much happens in such short periods of time.

I take my life day by day — I hope for weekends in Lake Charles, I hope for a week in Greece this June, but those will be gifts for me, treats.

Certainly I live my life a day at a time.  More properly, perhaps, I live it hour by hour, even minute by minute.

Even a minute brings such profound changes.  One minute, Dad was able to help us get him up and dress him and he could sit in a wheelchair.  One minute more and he’s on the floor of the front bathroom because his legs have given out.

From Friday to Monday, he went from transportation via wheelchair and truck — with me — to transportation via gurney and ambulance.

It’s only Wednesday.  It’s his tenth day back at home.

Living in the moment isn’t a theory any more for me; it’s reality.  I only have the moments, and I cherish them.

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