Thursday, 30 October 2014

Email Bankruptcy

[EDITORIAL NOTE: It tells you something about Crabby's week, if not life, that you are getting missives (read: complaints) from her two days in a row. Aren't you lucky.

Every day, Crabby Old Lady struggles to keep up with email. It's been a losing battle for years. She slips behind several days then schedules a few hours to catch up and the most common result is that her tush turns to stone in the desk chair as the hours creep by and she still hasn't finished.

Of course, Crabby is not alone. Not infrequently she reads of busy people who have 20,000 or 30,000 unread emails in their inboxes. Hers stretch “only” to hundreds.

It helps – to a degree – that Crabby color-codes some types of incoming. Bills are fluorescent pink, for example, and the emails she receives of every comment posted to this blog and The Elder Storytelling Place are red. The latter means she doesn't need to constantly check online to keep up with comments through the day.

Personal friends are purple. Certain newsletters are blue. Elder Storytelling Place submissions are green. And Crabby has forgotten what orange is for. Everything else is black including junk by the daily dozens that bought her address from websites that undoubtedly assured her they never sell addresses.

If you don't count those sleazy retailers, Crabby's junk settings generally work quite well; it has been years since a fake Nigerian has asked her to wire money.

There are a plethora of apps, add-ons and, most of all, advice from self-styled experts who, with fake patience, purport to have the answer for cleaning out your inbox. The item that each one of them seems to think no ever thought of before is to read email in reverse order of receipt.

Come on. Anyone older than 25 has been doing that since email was born.

Crabby has been trying to get out of email bankruptcy for so long, there's nothing she doesn't know about it – what works (not much) and what doesn't (everything else).

Undoubtedly, Crabby's largest difficulty is that she feels obligated to answer almost all email from real people. She is talking about the (mostly) kind people with questions, suggestions or general thoughtfulness in regard this blog. (What would Saturday's Interesting Stuff be without all those ideas flowing in?)

But what has prompted today's blog post is that due to busy-ness, old-fashioned sloth and maybe creeping old age (she seems to be slower in general lately), Crabby is now about two weeks behind in blog-related email and that adds up to - as of this moment - 761 unread emails.

And so, as soon as Crabby is finished writing this post, she is going to take the most extreme solution there is for email bankruptcy: she will highlight her entire inbox and click “delete.”

There is nothing else she can do and remain sane. It will rid her of the guilt for not answering and give her a clean slate.

If any of you reading have sent an email in the past ten days or two weeks that you believe must have an answer, okay, send it again. But please, Crabby is begging now, think it over carefully. She desperately needs a break from email.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Maureen Browning: Fuzzy Math

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Wednesday, 29 October 2014

By the Hair on Crabby Old Lady's Chinny Chin Chin

Before she even gets started, let Crabby Old Lady be clear: she is deeply grateful that so far – at age 73 – she has escaped the common conditions and diseases of old age. No arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, etc. and no recurrence of the one little basal cell carcinoma from five or six years ago.

Crabby knows how lucky she is but that doesn't mean she's sanguine about the minor afflictions of age.

Floaters anyone? Not a day goes by that Crabby isn't trying to brush little black bugs off her food.

The only time of day Crabby can escape her tinnitus is in the shower when the sound of falling water neutralizes it. But silence? Crabby hasn't been without noise in her ears for six or eight years.

Toad spots (seborrheic keratoses) – harmless but ugly – come and go. The only grace is that when they appear on Crabby's face, they are usually skin color, not dark brown like the others.

All these are annoying enough but the worst is chin hair which in Crabby's case extends to her upper lip.

The reason for them is boring enough: old women have hardly any estrogen left so testosterone takes over and that means hair – just not where she wants it on her head.

Just as there is no cure for baldness, there is also no cure for excess facial hair on women and the available treatments are awful.

Electrolysis and laser treatments - if they work at all – are successful mostly on dark hair and hardly ever on light hair like Crabby's. Besides, it takes six to 12 treatments to show results, is hugely expensive and must be repeated about twice a year. Forever.

Waxing is best done professionally, is painful, expensive and must be repeated about once a month – and you know how fast time flies when you're old.

Over-the-counter creams and strips are no better. They're messy, hard to apply and too often damage skin. Trust Crabby, it is a horrible procedure.

Plucking or tweezing don't work for Crabby. They are painful and although the hair does come out, little red bumps erupt on her skin where each and every hair was pulled out. No thanks.

All that is so depressing that Crabby might consider becoming the bearded lady in a circus (do they still have those?). If only there was more hair on her chin and upper lip, but alas. So Crabby is left with shaving.

It is a myth that shaving makes new growth thicker. The real difference is that shaved hairs have blunt ends instead of the tapered, softer tips of hair that has not been is shaved.

Crabby uses a cute little electric razor made especially for old women's facial hair problems. Actually, she uses it when she remembers to which often doesn't happen until she can nearly braid the hair on her chin.

Okay, Crabby exaggerates – she's slightly more diligent than that. But she has come to understand why a lot of men hate shaving and she's not happy that this latest item on her list of irritating old age afflictions will, like all the others, last until she dies.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Marc Leavitt: This Old Man

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Tuesday, 28 October 2014

A Mother's Stroke

”This has to be one of the modern circles of hell, stroke. Or should we call it our plague? One day my mother is walking two miles on the beach and doing crossword puzzles in ink. The next day her brain explodes and she is talking about a new way to do CT scans, with a cat on her chest, hahaha.”

That's Joyce Wadler writing in her I Was Misinformed column at The New York Times last Sunday about her 87-year-old mother, Milli. She tells us that Milli's left arm and leg don't move now and that her mind shifts frequently between clarity and confusion.

”Which is not to say the basic personality has disappeared,” Joyce continues. “It’s just a little rawer. I always thought Ma was pure id, saying whatever came into her head, but now we are really down to bedrock.

“Sitting in a visitors’ lounge or the dining hall, she shouts out news about her digestive tract that you would hesitate to confide to your primary physician.”

Let me tell you a story about Milli.

It must have been 1983, the centennial celebration in New York City of the Brooklyn Bridge. Joyce, who I've known for going on 40 years, secured a batch of tickets in the bleachers near the river for the show.

There were Joyce, her mom and dad, her friend Herb, maybe a couple of other people and me. It was a fine celebration with spectacular fireworks set to music and all. Afterwards, we walked a few blocks to Sammy's Roumanian, downtown on Chrystie Street, for dinner.

It's still there. The full name is Famous Sammy's Roumanian Steakhouse but I don't remember the steakhouse part and maybe they've added the “famous” since 1983. Or not. I don't know.

What I do remember is that we were ushered upstairs to a big room with other large-ish groups of diners and as soon as we were seated, a waiter arrived with a bottle of vodka frozen into a big chunk of ice. I don't believe any of us had ever seen such a thing before.

Next, a big bowl of chopped liver was plunked down on the table with a pitcher of schmaltz to mix in with it.

As much as I like chopped liver, I'd rather not be reminded of the chicken fat but Sammy's Roumanian is that kind of place and there is no point in getting sniffy about it. Just eat and enjoy.

And that we did – eat and drink and talk and laugh and maybe sing along with the live music that was as schmaltzy as the chicken liver. And then we laughed some more.

Afterwards, Milli said it was such a great night we should never go back, because nothing would beat it. She was right, of course, and I've never returned; it would only be a letdown.

On Sunday during an email exchange, Joyce said that she hopes her mom remembers that night. “I bet she does,” she added.

I'm going with believing that too.

Joyce's column is what I think of as quintessentially Joyce - funny, touching, insightful, and as painful and real as it must be when someone as honest as Joyce is writing.

The quotations above only glance at the essence of her story. For that, you need to go read it yourself.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Timm Holt: Naughty Meter

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Monday, 27 October 2014

My Visitors From Oz


If you read Peter Tibbles' Elder Music column yesterday, you know that he and Norma Gates, the Assistant Musicologist, traveled all the way from Melbourne to visit me in Oregon.

Oh, okay. The journey wasn't just to see me. They stopped for two or three weeks in the San Francisco Bay Area to visit Peter's sister before traveling north to my home.

In his post, Peter told the story of their visit with music to match the circumstance. I'm not that clever so you'll just get some photos that all of us took at various times.

For many years, there was a trolley with a regularly scheduled route between Lake Oswego and Portland. For reasons too boring to recount, it now runs only on special occasions but it is a lovely, little antique so Peter, Norma and I gave it a try.


The interior is pristine or, more likely, carefully restored. Here are the conductor and the volunteer who recounted the history of the trolley which, Peter and Norma informed me, would be called a tram in Australia.

(Keep the woman in mind; you'll hear more about her soon in this story.)


Although the trolley no longer goes all the way into Portland, it is still a lovely round trip along the Willamette River.


Nearby my home is Tryon Creek State Natural Area, 645 acres of woodland where there are eight miles of hiking trails, bicycle paths and horse trails too.

I especially like it because it reminds me of the forest behind my back yard where I played when I lived here as a little kid after World War II.

Norma likes to walk a lot we hied ourselves to Tryon Creek one morning for what we thought would be a minor hike. We stopped first at the Nature Center and lo – the woman behind the desk said, “I know you.”

We fumbled around for a moment and then realized she had been the volunteer on the trolley ride. Small world and an obviously busy volunteer.

She traced a hiking route for us that turned out to be a good deal longer and harder – steep trail in many places – than we had anticipated, but it was a good outing nevertheless.

Here is Peter on one of the wooden bridges and following that, me too.



Fall is spider season in my neck of woods and in two different years, I have opened my front door at that time of year to a gigantic web covering the entire entrance. Ick.

But you can't deny that the webs are pretty when the sun catches them just right and Norma got this shot in Tryon Park.


Portland, Oregon has a spectacular Japanese Garden and although Peter and I had visited when he and Norma visited in 2012, Norma had not seen it. It was a gorgeous, clear day and Norma pointed her camera at Mt. Hood in the distance.


Here's the shot she got with the mountain looking a lot like it did from my bedroom window when I was a kid.


Some other shots from the Japanese Garden: a waterfall, one of the rock gardens and this lovely tree branch that Peter noticed.




We drove the two hours to the Oregon coast one day especially to visit Josephson's Smokehouse where we picked up a pound or so of the very special wine-maple smoked salmon which Peter and Norma remembered from their 2012 trip.

You don't want to know what it costs. Even so, it's worth every penny or, anyway, we think so. I forgot to take a photo there but here are Peter and me at Cannon Beach (where we had a delicious lunch) and that town's iconic Haystrack Rock.



Closer to home, one day, we had lunch in a little restaurant called Five Spice that overlooks the lake in Lake Oswego. Here, Peter is perusing the wine menu.


After our meal, Norma caught Peter and me playing with a nearby interactive sculpture.


Peter is a wonderful cook and when we eat at home during his visit, I am perfectly happy to leave the food preparation to him. In his post yesterday, I interrupted his narrative to tell you how extra-special, wonderful yummy his pesto pasta is.

Peter took his time meticulously selecting the basil leaves and preparing the pesto sauce to his exacting specifications. As I mentioned yesterday, it was so delicious, I had him make it again before he left. Here's my plate at the end of the meal.


Ollie isn't the friendliest sort of cat you've ever met and although it's hard to know what cats are thinking, at least he didn't hide in the closet and seemed to be happy to have Norma and Peter here. This is a shot Peter got of him sitting in the window.


Norma flew off to visit other friends in New York City while Peter stayed behind with me for another week or so and then back to Melbourne. It's sad that so many good friends live so far away. You'd think by now that we would be able to beam around as they do on Star Trek.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Dan Gogerty: Baseball's Zen Cathedral in a Field of Corn

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Sunday, 26 October 2014

ELDER MUSIC: Here and There 2014

Tibbles1SM100x130This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.

Regular readers of TGB will know by now that Norma, the Assistant Musicologist, and I have recently visited Ronni, the Web Mistress. Before that we stayed with my sister in San Francisco and also visited other friends and family around the Bay Area.

We flew from Melbourne to Los Angeles and then took an up and downer to San Jose. As I did last time we visited the U.S., I decided to produce a musical column about our travels.

I could have used all the music from 2012 as we visited pretty much the same places but that would be boring, so here are a bunch of different ones.

On the flight north it struck me that we were heading up to San Francisco for the Labor Day weekend show. Naturally, that brought to mind JIMMY BUFFETT.

Jimmy Buffett

Okay, there was no show that we were headed for but the song sprang to mind as we were flying north to that city at that time. That song is Come Monday.

♫ Jimmy Buffett - Come Monday

Early on, we went up to the Napa Valley and the town of Napa in particular where my nephew is senior chef at Bistro Don Giovanni.

This was not long after the Napa earthquake. Fortunately, his place was okay and not too much damage was done to B.D.G. - their crockery and glassware were either in the dishwasher or had been carefully put away to prevent such occurrences.

And, to our relief, the wines had also been carefully stowed. They understand these things in California.

Given the name of the establishment, something from Mozart's opera Don Giovanni was an obvious choice for me. KIRI TE KANAWA (playing Donna Elvira) sings the aria “Mi tradì quell'alma ingrata.”

Kiri Te Kanawa

♫ Mozart - Mi tradì quell'alma ingrata

My sister is a skilled craftsperson. She has made all manner of things over the years, but her main gig is silver smithing at which she excels.

Other metals come to hand as well (silver can be very expensive) and one day I happened upon her banging away with a sledge hammer. Alas, I didn't have my camera with me and she had finished by the time I went and got it.

Instead here is this photo of her performing more delicate work.

Silver Smithing

However, the sledge hammering reminded me of the “Anvil Chorus” or “Coro di zingari" from Il Trovatore by GUISEPPE VERDI.


The Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus do their thing with it.

♫ Verdi - Il trovatore - Anvil Chorus

One day we went down to Carmel for lunch, as you do. After a particularly fine repast, we ventured to the beach where we saw the blue pearly water wash upon white silver sands (which were very much like Australian beaches).

Here we see the A.M., my sister and brother-in-law relaxing on the beach after lunch.


Now, if my rabbitting on back there isn't a song, I don't know one. That song is White Silver Sands by DON RONDO.

Don Rondo

♫ Don Rondo - White Silver Sands

Back in Los Gatos (where my sister actually lives), the weather was so fine we ate most lunches (and dinners) on the deck outside. We were graced by many birds visiting us – woodpeckers (I nearly included the Woody Woodpecker Song but thought better of it), beautiful blue jays and particularly, hummingbirds.

These may sound prosaic to you but we have none of those in Australia so we were really thrilled to see them. I guess the equivalent is Americans visiting Australia and seeing kookaburras, spangled drongos and cassowaries (although you'd really be in trouble if that last one was flying around your backyard).

Some days, well most of them really, we had to put up netting to keep the insects away from our food and wine. Pictured is the A.M. adjusting the mesh.

Assistant Musicologist

Of all the songs I thought of that would be appropriate, the best of them is Hummingbird by B.B. KING.

BB King

♫ BB King - Hummingbird

When it was time to visit the W.M., we decided to take the train rather than fly (okay, we had decided that long before) and after an early dinner with members of the family, we headed for the railway station in San Jose.

Well, the train from Los Angeles was already two hours late when we arrived and it lost another two hours on the way to Portland. Thus it was not only a Slow Train Coming, it was also a slow train going. Cue BOB DYLAN.

Bob Dylan

♫ Bob Dylan - Slow Train

The train journey took longer than the flight from Melbourne to L.A., so we had Time to Kill. We did that by sleeping (or trying to) in the initial stages (nighttime) and spending the rest of the time in the observation car looking at the scenery.

As this was northern California and Oregon it was generally pretty wonderful. So good, in fact, we both forgot to take photos. Here is THE BAND.

The Band

♫ The Band - Time to Kill

One day we went for a trek around Tryon Creek Park, a state park near Lake Oswego. This wouldn't take too long and was a pleasant stroll, I was told. Huh!

In spite of that, we had fun looking at the trees and other flora – fauna were a bit thin on the ground; they probably come out at night or at least dusk and dawn.

Even the creeks were low (as there's been less rain than usual around these parts). There was one place where the creek was rippling along which caused me to burst into song (but only briefly), and that song was Rippling Water by the NITTY GRITTY DIRT BAND, a particular favorite of mine.

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

Here is a photo of the three of us on a bridge looking down at our reflections in a creek (of the non-rippling variety, I believe).


A few days later we went to the Japanese Park in Portland where there was any amount of rippling water, so the song is justified. This is at that park.

Japanese Park

This song has a very quiet lead in – about 30 seconds of actual rippling water so don't think there's something wrong if you can't hear anything for a little while.

♫ The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band - Ripplin' Waters

Sometime later, without anything that lent itself to a song, we went into Portland to walk around (as that's what the A.M. and the W.M. seem to like doing).

After wandering about the waterfront of Portland, looking at all the bridges – lordy, there's a lot of them - we returned home and I was seconded to prepare a very late lunch.

I've been cooking various dishes while we've been here with the W.M. but today (and I'm sorry to blow my own trumpet, but it's necessary to get this song included, although you may be a bit dubious once I say what it is) she said that what I prepared was “in its own way as good as ice cream.”

This may not seem much to you, but that is the ultimate accolade from the W.M., who is a connoisseur of ice cream. She also said “Yummy, yummy, yummy” (and a few things after that) and that was enough for me to play for you that awful song from OHIO EXPRESS.

Ohio Express

You know the one, Yummy Yummy Yummy (I Got Love In My Tummy).

The dish I prepared was pasta with basil pesto, in case you are wondering or want to fly me to your place to prepare it for you – a great pinot noir, or several, is an essential accompaniment for this dish.

[RONNI THE WEB MISTRESS INTERRUPTING: It was a deceptively simple dish – pesto on spagetti. Sounds like no big deal but it was. And it was all in Peter's meticulously hand-crafted basil pesto or, as I have come to call the dish, Pesto Pasta. Ya shoulda been here for it. The best I ever had and so good, I “forced” Peter to make it again a week later and I had the leftover pesto on spagetti for lunch a day or two after he left for home. Yum.]

♫ Ohio Express - Yummy, Yummy, Yummy

Lake Oswego is on the main rail line to Portland and Seattle in one direction and San Francisco (okay, really Oakland) and Los Angeles in the other. Freight trains travel at all times of day.

The W.M.'s house is far enough away that at night we can just hear the lonesome whistle blowing. It's not enough to wake us but if we haven't gone to sleep it still invokes memories of old train whistles.

There were many songs that would fit this category, but the most obvious one is by HANK WILLIAMS.

Hank Williams

The song is I Heard That Lonesome Whistle Blow.

♫ Hank Williams - (I Heard That) Lonesome Whistle

Well, that's the column but I still have a week to go before I have to return (at least, that's so as I write). You never know, there might be another column if I do anything song-worthy, but don't hold your breath. I'll be home by the time you get to read it as all my music is back there.

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Comments (9) | Permalink | Email this post

Saturday, 25 October 2014

INTERESTING STUFF – 25 October 2014


According to the story at The New York Times,

”Knots are an ancient technology. They predate the axe and the wheel, quite possibly the use of fire and maybe even man himself: Some scientists have speculated that the first knotters were animals, gorillas who tied simple 'granny knots,' interlacing branches to construct nests.”

The Times made a little film of Des Pawson, one of the world's few experts on knots. Who knew knots are so fascinating.

You can read more about Mr. Pawson and knots here.


President Barack Obama stopped by his home voting precinct in Chicago last Tuesday to mark his early ballot. In the booth next to him was Aia Cooper. Her boyfriend, Mike Jones, was nearby. Hilarity ensued. Watch.

It turned out well for everyone. Aia and Mike had a voting experience they'll never forget and Obama got a light moment that must have been a relief from the grief he gets from all sides these days.


As interesting as the rope story was, this one is awful. You would think the newspaper of record could get something as simple as this right:

Headline: Anti-Agism Is the Problem; Plastic Surgery is the Symptom

Huh? Actually, “anti-ageism” is the cure. And it would be good if the paper could spell ageism correctly. Their version makes it seem that the story has something to do with farming.

[UPDATE AT 8AM: TGB reader Pat Trimple emailed to note that The Times has changed the headline, removing the word "Anti-" and correcting the spelling.]

In addition, the “debate” itself is less that illuminating. Could that have something to do with how the issue was mis-named in the headline? See for yourself here.


Ever since the 2008 crash, the economy has been front and center in the news. But how much do you really understand about what economists are talking about – the economy, money itself, banking and all?

If you're anything like me, not much. But now, a company called We the Economy has produced 20-odd short films explaining how money and economies work in words and pictures anyone can easily grasp.

Here is Chapter 6 called That Film About Money that cleared up a lot of fuzzy thinking I've had:

That video is from the second section called What is Money? There are four other sections titled as follows. Each contains several videos:

What is the Economy?
What is the Role of Our Government?
What is Globalization?
What Causes Inequality?

I haven't watched the entire series yet but I've already learned plenty from the ones I've seen. Here is the second part of the video above titled, oddly enough, Second Part of That Film About Money:

You can find out more about the work of We the Economy at their website where you can also watch all the videos, or you can find the collection on the YouTube page.

Trust me, the videos are smart and compelling. You'll learn a lot and be better prepared to evaluate what economists, politicians and others tell you about the economy.


Bob Mankoff is the cartoon editor of The New Yorker which is, undoubtedly, the premier source of great cartoons in the United States.

Last week he published a video that is the first of a new weekly series, The Cartoon Lounge, he will present about some of the cartoons in that week's issue of the magazine.

In this first outing, he considers several cartoon cliches - like desert islands, for one - and finishes up by answering a couple of questions about cartooning from readers.

Take a look:

You can read more about Mankoff's new series here.


The people who produce We the Economy videos (above) do an excellent job of making a tough topic more clear. So does John Oliver but he's also funny about it - even with painful topics which often makes his points more illuminating.

This time he tells the terrible story of how the United States treats the foreign nationals who provide crucial translation services in war zones, risking their lives and those of their families for U.S. soldiers.


Peter Tibbles, the TGB musicologist whose column appears here on Sundays, emailed this true little tale. It is about Brian Schmidt who ran afoul of airport security in Fargo, North Dakota on his way home to Australia.

An excerpt would ruin the story so here is the whole thing as it appeared in Scientific American:

”When I won this, my grandma, who lives in Fargo, North Dakota, wanted to see it. I was going to visit so I decided I’d take my Nobel Prize.

“You would think that carrying around a Nobel Prize would be uneventful, and it was uneventful, until I tried to leave Fargo with it, and went through the X-ray machine.

“I could see they were puzzled. It was in my laptop bag. It’s made of gold, so it absorbs all the X-rays—it’s completely black. And they had never seen anything completely black.

“They’re like, 'Sir, there’s something in your bag.'

“I said, 'Yes, I think it’s this box.'

“They said, 'What’s in the box?'

“I said, 'a large gold medal,' as one does.

“So they opened it up and they said, 'What’s it made out of?'

“I said, 'gold.'

“And they’re like, 'Uhhhh. Who gave this to you?'

“'The King of Sweden.'

“'Why did he give this to you?'

“'Because I helped discover the expansion rate of the universe was accelerating.'

“At which point, they were beginning to lose their sense of humor. I explained to them it was a Nobel Prize, and their main question was, ‘Why were you in Fargo?'”


The more high tech our world gets, the more I seem to appreciate old-fashioned, low-tech things. This one, from Darlene Costner, fits my interest fantastically. And I don't think I've ever seen such an accomplished puppeteer. You will be amazed.


Alan Goldsmith who blogs at Eldersparks sent this video about another new use for 3D printers – an amazingly wonderful one. The Youtube page says,

”Touchable Memories is a social experiment where we gave technology an innovative application, testing it in an unexplored field and achieving incredible results, making people aware of the endless possibilities of using technology to make our lives better.”


Here's the latest lesson from the Friskies chief house cat to the newly arrived kitten.

Interesting Stuff is a weekly listing of short takes and links to web items that have caught my attention; some related to aging and some not, some useful and others just for fun.

You are all encouraged to submit items for inclusion. Just click “Contact” in the upper left corner of any Time Goes By page to send them. I'm sorry that I probably won't have time to acknowledge receipt and there is no guarantee of publication. But when I do include them, you will be credited and I will link to your blog IF you include the name of the blog and its URL.

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Comments (13) | Permalink | Email this post

Friday, 24 October 2014

Old People Want More From Life than Safety

On Wednesday this week, I told you about Dr. Atul Gawande's exceptional new book, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. The post prompted a friend I'd not heard from in awhile to email.

Suzette Boydston is director of the Department of Auxiliary & Volunteer Services of Samaritan Albany General Hospital in Albany, Oregon, the Samaritan Pacific Health Services Senior Companion Program and serves on a number of boards related to elder services including the Governor’s Commission on Senior Services.

Whew! That is to say, she knows what she's talking about.

Suzette wrote to recommend a documentary to me. She said that she had screened it for one of her advisory boards and that “The discussion following was lively and very interesting.”

No wonder. The Thin Edge of Dignity is a powerful statement from Dick Weinman, who wrote and delivers the script on camera, about what his life is like in an assisted living facility (ALF), and it immediately reminded me of Gawande's book.

(Duh. That is, of course, exactly why Suzette sent it to me.)

Weinman is a retired professor of broadcast communications at Oregon State University, an author and former radio personality. The 20-minute documentary contrasts his life as it is today in the ALF with how he lived before a terrible auto accident left him disabled and without the ability to take care of daily needs.

The Thin Edge of Dignity is a powerful companion piece to Gawande's indictment of the way ALFs and nursing homes in America are commonly run. In Being Mortal, Gawande tells of an 89-year-old woman who decided on her own that it was time for a nursing home.

”She picked the facility herself. It had excellent ratings and nice staff...She told me she was glad to be in a safe place – if there's anything a decent nursing home is built for, it is safety. But she was wretchedly unhappy.

“The trouble was that she expected more from life than safety. 'I know I can't do what I used to,' she said, 'but this feels like a hospital, not a home.'

“...The woman had left an airy apartment she furnished herself for a small beige hospital-like room with a stranger for a roommate. Her belongings were stripped down to what she could fit in the one cupboard and shelf they gave her.

“Basic matters, like when she went to bed, woke up, dressed, and ate, were subject to the rigid schedule of institutional life. She couldn't have her own furniture or a cocktail before dinner because it wasn't safe.”

Gawande goes on to say that some elders refuse to succumb to the rigid routine of nursing homes or ALFs and have their ways of fighting back.

As he relates in his book, when one resident called for help to the bathroom too often to suit the staff, they put her on a set schedule every two hours to match their rounds. When she resisted by wetting her bed, they put her in diapers.

“Another resident,” reports Gawande, “refuses to use his walker and takes unauthorized, unaccompanied walks. A third sneaks cigarettes and alcohol.

“A woman with severe Parkinson's disease keeps violating her pureed diet restrictions, stealing food from other residents that could cause her to choke. A man with Alzheimer's disease hoards snacks in his room, violating house rules.

“A diabetic is found eating clandestine sugar cookies and pudding, knocking his blood sugar levels off his target.

“Who knew you could rebel just by eating a cookie?”

As the 89-year-old woman stuck in the ALF proclaimed to Gawande, people want more than safety as they approach the end of their days.

With all that in mind, please take the time to watch Dick Weinman's documentary, The Thin Edge of Dignity. It will be a well-spent 20 minutes.

In Wednesday's post, I mentioned that the PBS documentary series, Frontline, is producing a program based on Atul Gawande's book, exploring the relationships doctors have with patients who are nearing the end of life.

The broadcast premier is scheduled for 13 January. Be aware, however, that PBS channels often shift dates around so check your local listings. Here is a trailer for the show:

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Wendl Kornfeld: Nirvana, As We Define It

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Comments (17) | Permalink | Email this post