Tag Archives: book review

Growing Old Ain’t For Sissies

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There is not enough time in the day…or week for that matter. I am having trouble managing my time. I am behind in my schoolwork already. I work for a company who provides companions for seniors in their homes. It is the most rewarding job I’ve ever had but not one that provides good pay ( it is outrageously expensive, so go figure) or benefits. It is the perfect job while you are in school however. You can pick and choose your days and hours. The only challenge is I’ve been having a problem saying no. There is so much demand for this kind of service. More clients than caregivers.

Plus, evidently the word is out that I am good at this and there  have been personal requests for my time. Flattering, but even more challenging. I acknowledged this as I realized I worked close to 80 hours in a week. Some of the shifts are overnight which quickly add up. I only accept hours that I can sleep part of the time. I am not a night person.

I have met some remarkable people who have charmed my socks off as well as extremely difficult ones that would test the patience of any saint. Saintly I am not. I am an observant person and am astounded at the lessons I am learning. What it is to be old in our country and how I want to be treated. I get a birds eye view of family dynamics between parents and their grown children. In many cases, even though there is great caring and concern for the aging parent, there is also great impatience and intolerance. I have seen, overwhelmingly so, how the adult children become the nagging parent. The seniors don’t want to lose their independence while the offspring want to ensure that nothing can happen to the beloved parent they must begin to say goodbye to, so they begin to challenge and change their environment. The parent fights it. Sound familiar? Throw in unresolved emotional issues and it’s adolescence all over again.

We all know it is easier to be kinder to strangers than our own family. Familiarity does breed contempt. Civility is sometimes the cost of facing the immortality of our parents. I think it is a kind of distancing that starts to happen in preparation for that final goodbye.

When you are 90, you don’t see or hear well, unless you are incredibly lucky. Even my clients with hearing aids find it difficult, but it still drives their kids up the wall, like the parent is personally trying to annoy them. Communication breaks down even further. I know of one person who is convinced their parent is developing dementia but the reality is they can’t hear well even with an expensive hearing device and they are extremely frustrated that they are misunderstood. It contributes to being helpless and feeling out of control. Little things become very important. How you fold a towel, where you put something. They resist any kind of change because day by day they are losing the very life they have created over decades. We must develop a more respectfully inclusive culture for the elderly in this country, starting with our youth. Aging is denied, surgically removed or enhanced, and refuted and rejected in our culture. No wonder the young revile aging.

I have seen seniors’ worlds shrink from a busy, useful life to a recliner in the corner of a room, and a t.v. remote on a night stand. How does one make that transition? Many of my clients tell me their grown children make them feel useless and childlike. It is easier to take care of a child in some ways than to negotiate with an adult when you have the demands of your own job, family and life on top of it. It is true that some elderly want to be dependent and some can’t help it because of illness and decline. The thing we forget though is that we will one day be in that same position. I find myself asking how do I want to be treated?  So far I haven’t been able to translate that to positive behavior when being behind a senior driver. I’m working on that.

The more we honor that person for what they brought into the world, the more we can honor them in how they leave it. All of my clients love to talk about the past because it is what they are most valued for. They felt important. I realize through observing all of this that I have to be responsible for my self care as a caregiver. Caregivers are the first to get sick when they don’t practice this very important rule.

I have a favorite client that is from Argentina and has lived in this country since her twenties. She is ninety and is a breath of fresh air. Her health is failing but not her spirit and I look forward to every minute I am around her. I also see that her independent spirit is a pain sometimes to her two children. One is accepting and validating of their mom’s feistiness, and the other is not. That is because one is a bit too much of a caretaker (and like their mom in temperament), thus takes on too much, and the other lives farther away and is more distanced from the daily stresses. How they each deal with their mom can cause friction between the siblings. Codependency, old rivalries and resentments flourish in these situations. There are always exceptions to every rule; situations that are challenged by financial concerns for both parties. It is not easy.

The aging population is growing exponentially in our country but yet, we have very little training or education on what that looks like. All of a sudden, as a result of a stroke or a fall, things can change in an instant. Your relationship with that parent changes forever. I have begun to talk to my kids about this. The more I communicate to them now, the more they will be prepared for it. No parent wants to burden their children with this but it is a reality none the less. Yet more reason, to be personally responsible for our health. Physically and otherwise. Self care.

I have begun a book Retirement Heist, How Companies Plunder and Profit From the Nest Eggs of American Workers by Ellen E. Schultz, an award winning journalist for the Wall Street Journal. This book will forever change the way you see employers as the overburdened carriers of healthcare and pensions. It will make you sick at the amount of propaganda we are spoon fed for the profits of companies at the executive level. Executive profits and greed are growing more massive by the minute and we are paying for it. It’s not a good time for me to be reading this, but I can’t put it down. Knowledge is power. I’ve also got The Elegance of the Hedgehog in the wings, by Muriel Barbery.

My New Anniversary of JOY

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I decided I need to focus on a clean slate every day. Expecting a whole new year hasn’t worked out that great thus far. I’ve had way too many life lessons lately. Spiritual growth sucks sometimes, but the benefits outweigh the trauma… or so I’m told. I’m taking their word for it. I was catching up on my blog reading at Enchanted Seashells, minding my own business, when I read the one about the courtship between the Captain and Rosebud. I felt the tears welling up.

Today is my wedding anniversary to my Former Husband (FH), which technically is the anniversary of the end of our marriage when you think about it. I don’t want to feel sad. I forget more and more every day that I was married. It’s like women have to count everything! Or is it, keep track? Pounds, birthdays, weddings, death. I hear widowers say, all the time, how long a loved one has been gone, or what birthday it would have been. Do men keep track like that?

Expectations take a lot of energy. The more I expect of myself the more I expect of others. Hmmm? That brings me to ambition. I am finding the realities of my energy control my ambitions. I don’t have the time to read every blog or respond the way I would like to. When I was unemployed that was easier, and enjoyable. Now I play catch up.

Clanmother blog

I didn’t have the time to respond to a blogging award recently that Clanmother nominated me for. I don’t feel ambitious enough to expand my reader base. I need to be in the moment and let myself off the hook, so I can let others off the hook? Funny how that works. Expectations will always beckon.

I am going to encourage a theme for myself this year. JOY. That will be my pursuit. Giving it and receiving it. Receiving, opening myself up is the challenge. If I break it down to a daily goal instead of a yearly one, it’s doable. Little expectations, little footprints instead of big ones.

I don’t have a problem being alone but I like having a purpose. My new job has given me that, and I love it more every day. It’s not a long term solution to health insurance, but it is more than enough for the journey, today. I’ve decided to re-frame January 2 into my anniversary of JOY. It’s time to let FH and me off the hook.

I read an amazing book by Juliette Fay, called The Shortest Way Home. Her stories remind me of Karen White’s writing, which I really enjoy. The main character of this book is a man named Sean who has grown weary of nursing in third world countries and is called home to Belham, Mass. to deal with his family in crisis.

He discovers that he has been avoiding his own issues by taking care of others. Care taking at it’s best (there is a reason that it’s the basis for co-dependency) and it’s developed beautifully in this story. I loved all the complexities woven through out this novel while teaching about Huntington’s disease, sensory disorder in his young nephew, and the specter of a genetically inherited disease hanging over your head. I seldom read books written by women about male heroes but Fay does an excellent job. I had to go check out her first book, Shelter Me, which also takes place in the same town. I read some time ago Deep Down True, liked it as well, but it didn’t have the impact this book did.

I’m in process of packing up after a three week stint house/dog sitting and begin the tedious process of schlepping stuff back home. I will miss Zippy’s sweet, black-button eyes and his devoted patter every where I go. I won’t miss his obsession with paper products, however. Another way to spell his name? 

Want To Take A Sea Cruise?

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It appears that prison overcrowding is not exclusive to modern times after finishing the book “Bound With An Iron Chain”.  I was amazed at the dismal results of  death by hanging that was supposed to control crime in England in the 1700’s. Anthony Vader wrote a fascinating accounting of the 50,000 convicts that were shipped to the American colonies, between 1718 and 1775.  Complex social issues contributed to England deciding to use young America as a dumping ground for it’s most unsavory, but the foremost was cost. Just like today it was too expensive to house and feed the convict population. How else could the royals afford all those jewels?

Shipping them to our virgin shores was also very profitable for those in the convict business. Eventually it over took indentured servants as a cheap source of labor to help with building the infrastructure of colonial America. There was no way to police the convicts once they got here and many escaped only to return to crime in London.

The reasons for ending up on a ship bound for America could be as minor as stealing a hankie, a loaf of bread or poaching a chicken to feed a starving family, along with more serious minded criminals. After a time the bleak poverty and unemployment (prior to the industrial revolution) in merry old England made the risk worth it.

If they were unfortunate enough to survive the voyage (and many didn’t) they faced harrowing conditions after arriving in America. It wasn’t until we finally banned the importing of British convicts before our Revolutionary war, that England was forced to set up penal colonies in Australia. This is not history that was common knowledge which made it all the more interesting to me. If you like history you’ll like this well researched book. I wonder how many of our early ancestors came from British prison stock?
I also really enjoyed learning what inspired E.B. White to write the incomparable “Charlotte’s Web”. Michael Sims did an amazing job of detailing the idyllic, pastoral background that shaped Elwyn’s childhood and his deep love for animals and nature. He was raised in a close knit, middle class family and suffered from a young age with depression and anxiety that haunted him throughout his lifetime. Elwyn White had an impressive writing career at The New Yorker magazine, where he also met his wife who was an editor there.  They eventually settled into farm life in Maine that inspired the setting for all the wonderful characters created in “Charlotte’s Web” and had a devoted 48 year marriage.

His wonderful “Stuart Little” stories also became  classics but were released before he wrote the magical story of an unlikely friendship between a pig and a spider that held me and countless children spellbound. I enjoyed every page of this wonderful book by Michael Sims. Now, to find out how a woman ends up accused of murder from a lifeboat as I finish up “Lifeboat”. It will go well with our cold snap and my flannel sheets.

It Takes A Village

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I thoroughly enjoyed “Jana Bibi’s Excellent Fortunes” by Betsy Woodman.  A fictional book about a small village in India during the 1960’s, full of color and character. I really enjoyed the glossary for the language of India in the back of the book. It is frustrating in books when you don’t know the word meanings.

This author spent ten years, as a child in India, with her sisters and diplomat parents. Ms. Woodman’s best  childhood friend was a Muslim princess and they also lived next door to neighbors who kept a tiger in the back yard, as a gift for Jacqueline Kennedy! Her father’s approach to diplomacy was to make friends, and make friends they did! Her colorful life will be the foundation for a promising new series.

Jana (Janet) Laird decides to retire in a faraway Indian hill station, left to her by her grandfather, rather than Scotland, where her son resides. She moves in with her cheeky parrot, Mr. Ganguly and a cast of endearing villagers. I found the book a bit slow in the beginning. This isn’t a page turner, but more a meandering read. Pull up a blanket, a cup of tea and enjoy.

Speaking of which, I also enjoyed “The Color of Tea” by Hannah Tunnicliffe. A married couple transfers from London to Macau, China, loaded with emotional baggage. Grace and Peter are forced to tackle infertility, infidelity and the ghost of Grace’s mom, in a culture far from their own. Grace decides to open a small cafe to escape her unspoken grief and meets a wonderful cast of female characters. The only thing I didn’t like were the letters to her mom that are intermingled throughout the story, I found them distracting.

This author writes in tight, short sentences but is wonderfully descriptive about the sights and sounds of Macau. Both stories reminded me of how important the people we surround ourselves with are; and how much they can influence our experience… if we let them. It was a nice trip around the world!

“The Evolution of Faith” by Philip Gulley was as good as I expected. I’ve read all of his other work and really admire the way he cuts through all the crap and gets to the point about the problems most people have with Christianity today. If you have ever had questions about what it is to be a universalist, this is the book for you.

Simple Pleasures

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[Originally posted November 23, 2011]

So many of them…Libraries,turkey,friends, old movies. Speaking of which, tomorrow kicks off my personal movie count down to Christmas. I have a pretty big collection of holiday movies that I start watching on Thanksgiving. I usually watch at least one a day…I can hear my son groaning in Colorado now. He is the lucky one because his sister is here and will be forced to wear ear plugs to avoid the holiday favorites her mom watches every year. It usually starts with “Holiday Inn” strarring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire but not always. I have at least eight versions of “A Christmas Carol” including Mr. Magoo’s (my kids loathe this one the most because it’s a musical and they can’t get the songs out of their heads for days) and the Flintstones. It is my favorite story of all time. I didn’t appreciate it either when I was younger but find the reminder of second (third, fourth etc.) chances comforting. My favorite version of this movie is “A Muppet Christmas Carol” and it is the only one I can get my grown kids to watch with me. I keep telling them some day when I’m gone they will want to watch them but they vehemently deny that will ever happen. 

Most of the movies are oldies because they don’t make good movies anymore. Even Hallmark has gotten cheesier but times change and maybe that’s why I love going back to a simpler time, if there even was such a thing. Most of these movies were made before I was born but capture a spirit that I love, black and white. You had to use your imagination. My kids say they are boring but I say they are classic.

Speaking of classic…I read Nicole Baart’s book “Snow Angel” that was co-written with Glenn Beck. That is one talented writer and she’s ours! How lucky are we?! The story has touches of Sioux Center throughout (it’s a fictional town) so see if you can find them. She is one of the most poigniant writers to come on the horizon. The story reminded me of how lucky I was to have “angels” in the wings to parent me and love me when my own didn’t. 

Don’t forget to grab a wrapped Christmas book on the adult display table. To make it more fun we have mixed some free “gift” books in with the rest so you might really get a surprise. You’ll have to unwrap it before you leave so you can check out the library copies. That starts December first. Book club does the same random process for the book choice and we will meet here Dec. 17 to talk about our favorites. Please limit yourself to one free book. Thanks for making the library such a delightful place to work!  Marsella

Plenty

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[Originally posted November 1, 2011]

I was setting up a book display for November and was trying to come up with a theme. I usually know the theme before I set it up but not this time. It is all cook books with yummy comfort foods and lots of pumpkin and squash recipes. I tried numerous combinations but nothing fit. I was getting frustrated  and then it hit me, KISS, keep it simple silly. PLENTY… it sums up the season ahead doesn’t it? Somehow when I am worrying over how little my pay check seems to cover it never occurs to me to acknowledge the bounty all around me. I was driving to work this morning and a corner house had a yard completely covered with the most beautiful golden leaves. It was so pretty and I was grateful for this person not keeping up with the raking. I had an unexpected free oil change with an air filter thrown in from a wonderful group of guys. I found out that I can change a medication that I can no longer afford. There is plenty to be had all around me and I wouldn’t appreciate it as much if I had everything.

I found this wonderful quote in Susan Fox Rogers’ book:

“Tell me what you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”  Mary Oliver

I’d plan to spend it in a library. Wait a minute, I already am!  Read a cute new mystery named “Books Can Be Deceiving” by Jenn McKinlay. It is about a librarian who moves to an small island village. Don’t hear about too many of those jobs in real life. That is why the trip is so enjoyable (and cheap) from one’s couch.

If you haven’t read “I am the Messenger” get a copy, we still have a few. It is wonderful and I look forward to our discussion in November. Stay plenty (sorry) warm.   Marsella