Monday, January 28, 2013

My Patagonia

A Room with a View

Well, it has been raining for two days here in sunny Phoenix, Arizona.  Rain does to Phoenix what the snow does to the Northeast -- lots more accidents as cars hydroplane on oil and rain slicked roads (apparently oil builds up over time and when the rain comes -- watch out!).   So, I've been holed up in the Hyatt Place Hotel in Mesa, AZ while the intrepid Nancy B makes art.

Lake View
Seems like as good a time as any to write about a trip to Patagonia that I took a couple of years ago particularly given that a friend recently asked about it.  It was the second leg of a journey that started on Easter Island which I wrote about in My Rapa Nui.  I can remember a Chilean man at the hotel on Rapa Nui reprimanding me for choosing Patagonia over Atacama.  His theory was that I could see the Rockies in North America, why go all the way to Patagonia to see mountains that looked the same?  I didn't quite have an answer to that at the time but now I do.  And, Atacama remains on my list of places I want to see -- the trick is to figure out what to pair it with when I do go.

But, back to Patagonia.

I have a memory of this trip that permeates how I feel about it.  I am twirling in the midst of a field and there is no one within sight.  Just me, the blue sky, the blue lake in front of me, mountains in the distance, and the verdant green grass surrounding the trail.  As I walk slowly up to the lake another laggard is standing there taking it all in.  My niece Julia is off in the distance with his girlfriend not far away and the rest of the group is almost to the van.  His commentary was the equivalent of "I don't get it."  I live in Barcelona, you live in New York City.  Those people down there live in cities.  Why are they rushing? How often do you get to experience this?  This feeling of being alone with the world.  We laughed together at our fellow travelers and took off slightly apart to finish our respective hikes through the wilderness.
Running Water

For this leg of the trip, Julia and I were staying at the Explora's Hotel Salto Chico which is within the boundaries of Chile's Torres del Paine National Park.  It's a wonderful hotel with views of the Cuernos del Paine from a number of the rooms -- including ours (the photo above was taken from our window).  It's a great option for those of us who don't backpack -- offering a variety of hikes with experienced guides as well as horseback riding.  When you arrive, they send you out on a hike almost immediately.  I think it's a bit of a sorting exercise as you hear the guides for the rest of the trip gently encouraging people to pick hikes that fit their level of physical fitness and speed of trekking.  I think I was sorted into slow but steady walker from the get go.  Interspersed between the hikes are gourmet meals.  I  can still taste the tomato soup  we had for lunch one day.  It was made from the leftover tomatoes from the night before yet it tasted as though they had just been picked off the vine and barely cooked.

A Julia between two Nancy's
I loved the hiking here in Patagonia although I am not up to trekking the  "W" circuit which is a four-day adventure up into the mountains.   Leave us face it, I like a bit of luxury interspersed with my physical activity and so the Explora suited me just fine.  We also ventured out on horseback -- an adventure that reminded me of my days as a girl scout counselor where I begged to be a counselor for the horseback riding only to find myself placed in an intermediate class having never been on a horse before.  The rules were that there needed to be a counselor in every class.  Hmm, if you add in my getting a horse that was part Clydesdale for English riding and that intermediates were staring on jumping, you can easily deduce why I'd never been on a horse again until this trip rolled around.  Fortunately, these were pretty gentle horses for us gringos.  It was atop my steady steed that I had one of those Isak Dinesen moments as a condor spiraled down on a thermal whilst we gazed across the mountains.  Sometimes a blurry memory beats a photo.

Speaking of photos, I was completely off on the exposure in this neck of the woods with most of my photos coming out over exposed for no reason that I can fathom since my camera was basically on auto setting.  It was also the first trip where I lugged a guerrilla tripod which made the photo shoot behind the Explora at dusk kind of fun.

It's a bit of a trek to get to Torres del Paine requiring an overnight in Punta Arenas where we spent an  afternoon touring the Cemeterio Municipal -- one of the more interesting places I've whiled away an afternoon.  I've written about final resting spots -- including our visit to this cemetery --  elsewhere in this blog.  I most remember the families perched on the edges of graves laughing as they picnicked with their long-lost relatives and had a good time.

Having been to the end of South America to see the mountains of Torres del Paine, I think my Chilean friend had it all wrong (and thank goodness he wasn't my travel agent!).  His point was that the granite bones of Torres del Paine were the same as those of the Rockies and so why bother to see both.  Somewhere he forgot that a place isn't just about what one sees but how it makes you feel.

Hmm, Patagonia and Atacama would make a very nice pairing.  Another trip to plan.  But maybe after the intrepid Nancy B and I figure out where to stay on the way home from Sedona where I am finishing up this post that began on a rainy day in Mesa, Arizona.

Courthouse Butte (Sedona, AZ) on a Rainy Day

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Road Trip Slices

Grey Skies, Red Rocks
It's January 25, 2013 and I'm sitting in Mesa, AZ having not done much of anything today.  I had big plans for this day -- one of two in Mesa with nothing on the agenda as the intrepid Nancy B (aka the B) makes art elsewhere in the hotel.   I was so torn between going to the Grand Canyon, Tombstone, and a day at the spa that I ended up with nothing planned.  Sometimes the best days are spent sitting on a couch watching old episodes of CSI and Law & Order: Special Victims unit while puttering around on my computer.  The only thing missing is a nap (but there is still time for that left in the day).

After a few days puttering around in San Diego (that included a whale watching tour with whale sightings from afar), the B and I set out for points east in California and Arizona.


Our first --and unplanned-- stop was at the gigantic Skecher's distribution center and factory store.  It's something like 1.8 million square feet -- that is acres and acres of Skechers.  They can move 20,000 pairs of shoes an hour -- using a "highly efficient" robotics systems.  Methinks, despite statements to the contrary as this super-sized structure was being built, it did not create so many jobs.

Now, I am not a Skecher's wearer but who could resist these (I charged up the Lytro for this shot)?

They are pretty comfy (and the orthotic fits).

Kate's Lazy Desert
Tiki @ Kate's Lazy Desert
After a late lunch at John's Place (yummy burgers and fries) and shopping at Von's (juice for the vodka, milk for the coffee, oatmeal for breakfast), we let Blondie (the B's name for her GPS) guide us to Kate's Lazy Desert.  It was quite the complicated little adventure with the final stretch meandering along an unpaved Botkin Road until we hit the gates at Kate's where we had booked two airstreams and had the place to ourselves.  It was a bit chilly for a swim and (alas) there were no stars to see due to a thick cloud cover but we made the best of it with cream flavored vodka and juice and a cozy fire.

Washer Drum Fire

Morning brought a cuppa coffee and a bowl of oatmeal before we set out on the next stage of our adventure.
Have a Cuppa Joe (Source: via Nancy on Pinterest)

Joshua Tree
This has got to be the fastest visit to Joshua Tree ever.  Fortunately, we had spent a day there a couple of summers ago.  I did get a few quick photos in under a grey winter sky before the rain rolled in.

Stormy Skies

Winter Pods
Red Rocks Rising

Fallen Joshua Tree

Driving, Driving, Driving
It takes five hours to get from Joshua Tree to the Phoenix area.  The first hour or so was on an endless road -- ominously marked as being "not" maintained.  Fortunately, it is dry out here in the desert so very few potholes.  The rest of it is mostly on route 10 which appears to be a major truck and RV route and also heavily populated with RVs -- at least until you hit Blythe where they all seem to veer off into the giant RV parks that line the road and house RVs of all shapes and sizes.

There was the excitement of trucks passing trucks,  RVs towing cars, trucks passing RVs, us passing trucks......

Mostly, the desert just flew by under the  moody light that only a cloudy sky can deliver.  

Highway to Infinity

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Asking Questions


A long time ago (circa 2001), as I was finalizing paperwork at the nursing home where my aunt had lived out the last years of her life, the social worker looked at me and said something along the lines of “no matter what people say, you were always her advocate.”  I’ve always thought that was a polite translation of “you’ve been the bane of our existence for the past several years because you questioned just about everything we did and you often made decisions that we didn’t agree with because you thought it was what your aunt would want.”

This story is from before I knew much about caring for older adults.  It’s from when I was the relative living closest to my aunt and fell into caregiving like Alice tumbling down the rabbit hole.  It’s from a long time ago and the landscape is definitely changing as the idea of person-centered, person-directed care gains a toehold.  At that time in my life I worked at a major medical center.  I was armed with an army of doctors to advise me but at times was strangely alone.

I remember two family meetings from those long ago days as if they had happened yesterday – the first and the last.   This is the story of the first meeting.  The dialogue is not exact in terms of the verbiage but it is the essence of what was said.  It was one of those strangely alone times in an era before instant access through cell phones and texting.  No doctors to advise me on this one.  Just me and a crisis created by my aunt in her very first weeks as a nursing home resident.

My Own Private Gates
I had determined that I could no longer safely maintain my aunt at home.  In that era, it was hard to find a nursing home that would accept a patient directly from the community.   I finally found two with openings and selected the one that was the best fit for our needs.  It was clean, close to where I worked, and recommended by the doctors that I worked with.  Sheila was placed, we cleaned her apartment, and the next chapter of caregiving began.  There was a sense of relief that I was no longer juggling 24-hour care and doctor’s appointments.  That was short-lived.

I remember arriving for that first family meeting and the administrator running out to greet me and tell me that it was going to be bigger than a normal meeting.  “Your aunt kicked an aide across the shower room this morning.   Our best aide,” he said.  In addition to her core care team, the director of nursing will be there, the director of social work will be there, the medical director will be there, the admissions director will be there.”  I remember the list seemed endless.  I asked if I had time to go up and see my aunt and he said “yes.”  And, so I did.

Although she had dementia, you could still ask my aunt direct questions at that point and get coherent responses. 

So I asked her, “How are you.”


“Why? “

 “This woman was bothering me this morning.”

“What was she doing? “

 “I was closing a deal for real estate in the Hamptons and she kept tugging on my arm and wouldn’t go away when I asked her to.  I was going to get a big commission”

“What did you do?”

 “I kicked her.” 

“That probably wasn’t the best solution.” 

“Well she stopped bothering me.” 

“OK, try and feel better and I hope you can close that deal.” 

Walking into that family meeting was tough – it was indeed big and there was just one place at the table left, for me.  My mom (my aunt’s sister) and dad were relegated to chairs behind me.  (As an aside, my Mom hated my nursing home choice but that is a story for another day).   I sat and folks introduced themselves – name rank, serial number.  Nancy, niece, legal guardian was mine.

Then they were off to the races.  A veritable Greek chorus of voices, a cacophony as it were.  The two statements I remember were:

“You didn’t tell us she was violent. You lied” (admissions director); and

“That is our best aide.” (Nursing director). 

I remember they said they had to send the aide home.  And then they all looked at me, expectantly.  I think they were waiting for my apology, my confession, maybe my tears.

Instead I asked, “Did anyone talk to my aunt after this happened?” 


Finally someone said, “Well no, we talked to the aide and we know what happened.  She’s our best aide.”

“I did.  Talk to my aunt that is.   Let me tell you what happened from my aunt’s perspective.”   And I told them about the deal, the commission, the not wanting to be bothered, and the woman who was not paying attention to what my aunt was saying.

Last Wall
More silence and then a voice, I don’t remember whose.

“That doesn’t negate the fact that she was violent and that she kicked an aide, our best aide, across the shower room.”

“She’s not violent.  Can I ask what time of day this was?”

“7:00 am, we are on a schedule, it was her turn for a shower and we do those before we take residents down to breakfast in the dining room.”

“So every resident has to be up, showered and at breakfast?”

“Yes, they all have to be up, showered and in the dining room for breakfast unless they are bedridden.”

“By when?”

“8:00 am.”

“Oh.  Maybe you need to know a bit more about my aunt.” And I told them the story of my aunt.

She was the first female executive at her company and she’s always done things her way.  I’ve accommodated that.  If she wanted cool whip in the middle of the night, she got cool whip.  If she didn’t want to take a shower one day, that was ok.  Not ready to get up?  That’s ok to.  So, no, she wasn’t violent when I brought her here.  She had no need to be – she was accommodated in every possible way in her home by the people who took care of her and by me.   Cognitively impaired?  Yes.  Hallucinating?  Yes.  Incontinent?  Yes.  Unsteady on her feet?  Yes.  Needing 24-hour care?  Yes.   All information provided to you on admission and verified by her physician.

Violent.  No.  Not in the last several years.  Not ever.  She was the jolly funny aunt with the house on Fire Island that she built herself.  She was the aunt who always got her own way.  She was a top-level executive who smoked like a chimney and could drink with the boys.  That is until she got lung cancer and the world, as she knew it, stopped and a new reality set in.

Water Lily
I have no doubt that your aide was doing her job, doing it well, and that she is your best aide.  My aunt is a big woman, she is younger than your average resident, and she is stronger.  I’m sorry she kicked the aide and I hope she wasn’t hurt.  But I’m also wondering why she was dragged out of bed for a shower when she didn’t want to go?  I’m wondering about other residents who may be older and weaker and are similarly forced to live by your schedule.  I am wondering why on earth everyone has to take a shower before 8:00 am. 

More silence.

And then a voice, “We could maybe do things a bit differently.  Have the staff check on her and if she is not ready to get up, move on to the next patient and check back in to see if she is ready.”

Another voice, “maybe she could have breakfast in her room if she’s not ready to get up.”

And a third, “and maybe we could give her a shower in the afternoon.”

“That would be great,” I said.  “I think that approach would be better for her.  She really has never been a morning person.”

There was some more mumbo jumbo about what type of occupational and recreational therapy she would get, what medicines they had her on (NOT good ones as I recall), and a few other things they thought I should know.  And then the meeting was over.  Just like that.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, I still had my Mom to deal with and she was not a happy camper.  But the hard part was done.  The part that made my hands and my voice shake as I stared into the abyss of a highly regulated industry and got the team to bend their rules to meet my aunt’s needs.   I’ve always hoped they did a post-mortem on that meeting and made accommodations for other residents.  Hoped but never knew.

White Shadows
This post is titled “Asking Questions” and there are questions threaded throughout.  What was the most important question I asked that day?  “Do I have time to see my aunt? “  If I hadn’t done that, the cacophony of the Greek chorus would have rained down upon me and I would not have been able to counter with her side of the story.  I suspect I would have gotten to the same place but it would have taken a bit longer to get there.  I sometimes envision the whole troop of us having to go up and visit my aunt to get her side of the story.  Now that would have been a story to tell!

I’m not sure where I got the courage to sit down at that table and do what I did.  I know I wasn’t as polished as this story I’ve just told.  I know that my voice shook and that my hands did as well.  For sure I rambled a bit more when making my points and I think I was a bit melodramatic about the other residents not having their wishes respected.   Physically, I remember feeling faint and as if the blood were coursing through my arteries and veins at 90 mph.   That’s how I always feel when I’m nervous.  I am sure that was the day the nursing home administrators stopped worrying about my aunt and noted they needed to proceed with caution when it came to her care else they would have to contend with “the niece.” 

That was the day I learned that as a caregiver, one of the most important things I can do is to ask a question.  And to keep asking questions until I’m satisfied that I know what I need to know to help make a decision or to make a decision on behalf of someone else.

That was the day I became an eldercare advocate.   
It's a Long Road

Thursday, January 17, 2013

365 Jackets in Search of the Perfect Pair of Pants

Conservatory Garden Mums: After the Storm
Among my life goals is to have 365 jackets to wear when I am in assisted living.  I guess another goal would be to be able to afford to be in assisted living but I’ll stick with the jackets for today.

A secondary goal is to have seasonal variations of the perfect pair of black pants to wear with those jackets.  Pants that suit my figure perfectly, that are the right length, and that go well with what I suspect will be a really comfy pair of shoes with a good, thick, non-skid sole.  I already have an insert due to the arthritis in my big left toe.  Full-blown orthopedic shoes can’t be far behind. 

I know exactly the perfect pair of black pants.  I have multiple pairs in my closet as I write this.  They are Eileen Fisher wide leg black trousers with a yoked waist in washable stretch crepe.  No pockets.  No zipper.  They hang perfectly.  And they are OH SO comfortable and impervious to wrinkles.   

They also appear to have disappeared from the Eileen Fisher line.  They’ve been replaced by skinny-leg and straight-leg pants in the same fabric with the same yoked waist.  I brought a pair of the latter home with me recently without first trying them on.  Big mistake. 

 A Favorite jacket
A word about my body type is in order.  I am a pear.  I’ve got little narrow shoulders atop wide hips with a generous rear.  I am a pear when I am skinny at any weight. I did not inherit my parent’s long skinny legs.  I did not inherit their height.  I was the biggest baby in the family and am the smallest adult.  In a nutshell, I am 5’ 4” tall and a pear.   I’ve written in other posts about my forays into exercising and losing weight (Big Chicken and Me and My Mii).  There are some things that diet and exercise can’t change.   I am still a pear.

But back to the 365-jacket plan and getting Eileen Fisher to make the perfect pants again.  She needs to make them in both trouser and crop length and she needs to start making them soon!   Mine are beginning to show signs of wear and tear.   Frankly, I am not sure why she doesn’t have them in her line these days.  There must be other pears who, like me, want pants that don’t make them look like a rug that has been rolled up around a big beach ball.  Skinny. Wide. Skinny.   Perhaps us pears could come together and rise up and protest in front of one of her stores?  I’ve already commented on her Facebook page that they need to start making these pants again.  No response.

As to the jackets, I am slowly heading towards my target goal of 365.  The biggest problem there is that I tend to wear my favorites a lot and I’m not sure they will make it to assisted living.   I’m also not sure that is a good goal anymore.  You see, I also have this thing for vests.  Practically speaking, vests will be infinitely more comfy in assisted living. 

Either way, I do know that I’ll need those perfect black pants from Eileen Fisher because whether I go the vest or the jacket route, I’m still going to be a pear.

Can you hear me Eileen?

Nature's Textures