Shannon Ingram's Place

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Location: Orange County/CA

Musings of a woman who left her corporate career to become a caregiver for elderly parents, wrote a book and found her way back to corporate - with love, instead of fear, leading the way. Now working at my Alma Mater, UC Irvine, as Marketing and Communications Director for the School of Biological Sciences.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Christmas Catheter

The Hallmark Channel and the Family Channel are already broadcasting those corny holiday movies that I love - the sappier the better. I watch them late at night while Gary is sleeping. I'd much rather fall asleep crying because Santa Claus brought a new mom to a needy little boy than crying about the mortgage industry going to hell and the daily death toll in Iraq.

Last night as I watched a TV movie called "The Christmas List," I began wondering if I could write my own sappy holiday script. I came up with a good one - "The Christmas Catheter." It's about a grumpy 90 year-old man with prostate problems who makes life miserable for everyone around him, especially his angelic caregivers, who pray for better days. Their prayers are answered when Doc Santa inserts a catheter and the old man actually feels better. The caregivers celebrate together by making a snowman out of unused Depends and put it in the old man's living room, while singing "Frosty the Snowman."

I know the story needs work, but hey, it's a start. Don't expect me to be crossing the Writer's Guild picket lines. I'll have to wait till next year to pitch this one.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Ingram's in the News

It's a red letter day for the Ingram family and the media. Gary had his "date" with Frank Mickadeit, columnist for the OC Register, this past Saturday and Frank wrote about it in his column on page two of the LOCAL section in this morning's paper. Frank mentioned me, too, because I'm the one who set them up by bidding on Frank at the recent WomanSage "Men of Sage" auction. On page two of the LIFE section in the same edition of the Register, Jane Glenn Haas kindly mentions me, my book and web site in an excellent column about caregiving. Grandson Keegan has made it onto a Thomas & Friends/CM Railways web site riding a miniature Thomas the Train in Perris, CA last week ( There's a little article about Keegan's visit and five pictures of him and the train. Superstar! And finally, in another media coup, "El Toro," Gary's big silver F-250 truck, appeared prominently for about 3 seconds in footage of this morning's high speed chase on the 101 freeway.

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Underwear Christmas

My family is pinching pennies this holiday season mostly due to the high costs of assisted living for my parents. We have lived large for many years, and we are so grateful for all the good things happening in our lives that we can't feel too bad about not being the first in line at Best Buy or Nordstrom this morning, or anytime this year. Gone are the extravagant holidays of the past, with one exception. We still have an abundance of love and laughter to share.

Forty years ago when I was in high school, my mom was doing her best to support my brother, John, and me after our dad had left her with a bankrupt business, huge debts and nothing but a roof over our heads. The day after Thanksgiving, she sat us down and informed us there wouldn't be any money for Christmas gifts. We cried together, and then Mom suggested we bake some cookies and listen to Bing Crosby. John worked as a "box boy" at El Rancho Market and I babysat to bring in extra cash so we could buy a Christmas tree. On Christmas Eve, my grandmother came to stay with us and brought us flannel pajamas. We sang songs and watched "White Christmas" on TV. The next morning, John and I were surprised to find gifts under the tree. Mom had bought new underwear for us. She also gave John a small electric vacuum cleaner so he could make money washing cars in the neighborhood. And I got a new iron, which we needed anyway, but Mom made it sort of fun by wrapping it and letting me open it as a gift. What I remember most is that we laughed constantly. John kept saying, "Wow, Mom, GREAT UNDERWEAR!" In the history book of our lives, that is one of my most memorable Christmas celebrations because it brought us closer together.

Today, as our family faces another "underwear Christmas," I am immensely thankful my mom and stepdad are here to share it with me. Mom and I laughed about it yesterday at our family Thanksgiving feast. The laughter was good medicine because sadly, John isn't with us any more. Don't get me wrong - he's alive, just not in touch with us. He has his reasons, which we don't understand; but I think he knows we still love him very much and are grateful for the years we spent together through thick and thin. Maybe I'll send him a gift-wrapped three-pack of boxer shorts to break some ice.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

We've got everything we need for the Ingram-Garner-Johnson festival of GRATITUDE tomorrow at our home. The silver's clean, the china is out and the tablecloth is ironed. We have the turkey and all the fixin's. I made a centerpiece. Gary has wrapped the couch in plastic and put washable blankets on top so we won't have to worry about those embarassing "accidents" that often happen with elderly parents and three year-old grandchildren (we wrapped a couple of dining room chairs too). Mom has offered to peel potatoes, so I will have a special chair for her in the kitchen. Keegan is helping his mommy make pies today. Gary promises not to let his road rage spoil Thanksgiving Eve tonight because he can't leave LA till after 4 PM and will probably be on the road for hours coming home. Meg, Ted and Hannah are bringing ranch bacon for "Baconfest" which kicks off our Thanksgiving morning every year. Cory has invited a pilot friend from Cleveland who is on a layover in LA, so there will be plenty of testosterone in front of the TV watching football. Vanna dog is out having a special bath (including gingerbread perfume and a bright, shiny new holiday tag for her collar) at Pet's Mart today. And of course, the day after tomorrow, on one of the busiest shopping days of the year, Mom will begin asking me what Meg and I are planning for next Thanksgiving! Have a blessed day....

Friday, November 16, 2007

Reunited by Fire

My old friend, Bob Liewer, took this now-famous photo of the Santiago fire in the hills above Lake Mission Viejo. My cousin, Dru, who works for the City of Mission Viejo, found his name and email address at the bottom of an email chain containing the photo. I mentioned this in a recent post. Dru and I hadn't communicated with Bob in over 35 years. This week we are having tons of fun emailing back and forth and learning about one another's lives since those great college days cruising around the world on the semester at sea. Hopefully we can get together soon because we all live within a few miles of one another. Guess I can find something good about a hellacious wildfire after all.

Oh Happy Day

The Orange Coast Daily Pilot featured a story about me and my book this past week. I enjoyed the interview with reporter Sue Thoensen. I found myself wanting to interview her. She's close to my age, but she looks 40. Talking with her was such fun that I didn't want to leave to go pick up Mom for a planned afternoon outing.

Recently, I told Mom that I wasn't going to call her every day, or come see her as often as I do if she was going to complain all the time. She had been complaining about not being able to go to Mervyn's for the Wednesday sales because I have to work and can't drop everything to take her shopping. Hospital yes; shopping no. And then she complained about not having any money. "The least you could do is try to be happy," I said during a particularly crabby phone call last week. "You have a lovely place to live, you have a dog, you have Saint Norma to do your makeup every day, you have friends and the food is good there. You have Happy Hour on Fridays and wine with dinner every night," I added. "But Jack is such a grouch," she countered. "Stop focusing on the crap in your life, Mom. It will just get crappier." She heaved a big sigh and said "OK," in a higher than usual Minnie Mouse pitch that I call her "WHATEVER" voice.

The next day, Mom called around 10 AM. When I answered, she said "Hello. I'm happy." Then she added that she would be happier if I would come out and take her to Kohl's, which of course, I couldn't do that day. The following day, when I went to visit, she smiled and said, "Hello dear. I'm happy today." After a few days of this "I'm happy" attitude adjustment, I picked her up for the outing following my Daily Pilot interview. Amazingly, she was the happiest she has been in months! She was all smiles and didn't even complain when I accidentally added milk to her coffee. She said, "I'll try it this way for a change." Oh shocking happy day! We had a wonderful time that afternoon, enjoying a "Timeless Melodies" program of patriotic American music in celebration of Veteran's Day at the Oasis Senior Center in Corona del Mar.

Shifts happen.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

A Farewell to Friends

We've said sad good-byes to two animal friends and a little boy in the past week. Our ministers, Kirk and Sandy Moore, and their daughter, Deanna, lost their beloved Rufus, a 12 year-old boxer-mix who was one of the sweetest dogs on the planet. Rufus was just a cute little puppy when he was adopted by our sensitive, enlightened and metaphysical friends. He grew into a very big dog and they found out he was actually more pit bull than boxer - not exactly what you might think of as a family pet for ministers. Kirk said they were told by the vet to call Rufus a "boxer-mix" and trust that he would be a great pet. Sure enough, he was a lover not a biter. Rufus joined us, along with the rest of his family, for Thanksgiving at the ranch last year and celebrated being in the great outdoors, which he enjoyed frequently thanks to Deanna's ardent love of nature. Rufus will be missed by everyone in our church, where he often hung out during choir practices and board meetings.

One of my sister's two precious baby horses, whom we called "Milk Dud" (although he had a fancy registered name too), died Monday, which was the day before my sister's birthday. I took it almost as hard as Meg and her family because Gary and I spent some quality time with Milk Dud during his six months of life. He was adorable and had a great personality. My niece, Hannah, enjoyed showing him off at last summer's ranch hoe-down. We don't know what caused the root of the problem that felled Milk Dud. We do know that Meg doesn't think she can take another death of a baby, so she's out of the baby horse business. Thankfully, during this Thanksgiving season, "Gus," the other baby, (whom Gary named after Partagas cigars) is still ok, energetically chasing his mom around the pen and eating well. We're all grieving for Milk Dud, but we know he's not in pain and that's a good thing. For some reason, the death of a baby horse hurts more than the death of a chicken or a skunk.

Our church community also lost a blessed three year-old boy last week. Little Liam was diagnosed with leukemia several months ago, but had responded well to treatment until late in October. His last week of life was one of pain mitigated by drugs and an outpouring of love from family, friends and community. We like to think that when Liam left the planet, he went to play with Rufus. Now Liam and Rufus have Milk Dud to play with too. Something about that vision makes me smile. I've been adding the chicken and the skunk to the visual, sans odor, to make it a kind of heavenly Bambi scene, with Milk Dud in the lead role and Liam as Thumper; whatever works to see the light on the other side of tears...

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Coincidence ROCKS

When the fires were raging in So CA a couple of weeks ago, my cousin, Dru, emailed a photo that made me gasp. It was a shot of the Santiago fire taken from the west side of Lake Mission Viejo. The entire skyline was aglow and I thought I could see the home of some friends in the picture. Those friends were in Hawaii - so I had to send it to them via email and thought they might get it when they got home. No, they saw it before they left Hawaii. They were a bit frightened, but could see that their home was ok. I saw the shot on CNN later that night. Wish I could upload it to this post, but instead I'm including a photo of adorable Dru at the ranch party this past June (her husband, Larry, was on a nearby porch reading a book).

Today, Dru copied me on a message she sent to the person who took that amazing photograh. Turns out he is an old friend of ours - someone we knew and loved during our Chapman College "Semester at Sea" in 1970-71 aboard the USS Ryndam. In the past five years, Dru and I have re-connected with several people from the World Campus Afloat (WCA) here in So CA. When we attended, it was our sophomore year in college, and we were truly amazed to be there. We were both on scholarships and loans - and incredulous all the way, except that it was real. We have the memories and photos to prove it. We were known as "Frick and Frack" because we did almost everything together - a couple of naive teenagers out to conquer the world. I can honestly say that we loved every single minute of that life-changing experience. How cool is it that 37 years later, we are re-connecting with friends from that magical time in our lives? I'm grateful.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Skunk Busters

Mom and Jack have decided that it's too much trouble to go up to the ranch for Thanksgiving. We will be celebrating the big family holiday at our home this year, so we're finding other weekends to enjoy fall at the ranch. We went up on Saturday and spent the night with Meg, Ted and Hannah. There is always some kind of big adventure happening at the ranch. This weekend, I thought it would simply be the opening meet for the fox hunt club which started early Sunday morning. I was able to sleep that night because I was assured the fox is in on the game - they just chase him but don't kill him.

Gary was up at 5 AM, before the roosters, so he could drive down to the big red gates and open them for the hunters. Dozens of trucks pulling horse trailers arrived before 7 AM. I awoke around that time to the sound of hounds barking and gazed out to the lower meadow to see something right out of merry olde England. There were men and women dressed in scarlet or black jackets, white breeches with high black English boots and black hats milling around with their horses. Finally, someone blew a funny-sounding little brass horn and - Tally Ho - they were off.

That was my cue to take off in search of coffee over at Meg's house. Gary and I sat down on their front porch with coffee and Ted came walking up from the barn. "Gary, do you have any great tips on skunk extraction? A skunk is in the chicken coop and has eaten one of the chickens and cleared out all the eggs." Whoa, I thought, those poor chickens. They were just recovering from the twister that hit the ranch a couple of weeks ago and now a skunk is among them. Gary said, "Let's go have a look." Vanna dog raced after them and I yelled for her to come back, knowing that any encounter between Vanna and a skunk was bad news. She'd be better off chasing the fox.

About 15 minutes later, they were back, this time to get serious about ridding the ranch of the latest chicken terrorist. I won't go into their skunk-busting solution, but needless to say, nobody could smell the bacon cooking for the great fox hunt brunch on the lawn in front of Meg's home. Hopefully the chickens slept well last night, but we left the ranch before noon.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Back to Reality

Kathy J is in caregiver hell right now - sandwiched between her diva mom and dog-loving daughter. She sent me a hilarious message this morning that I must share. She wrote that if she didn't have me for a friend, she'd have to invent me, and then elaborated...

I was just thinking that if we had to invent each other, then we could be figments of our imaginations. Only we are too real...if we were made up, we would weigh 130 lbs and have rich, indulgent husbands who were never in bad moods. And we could be as bitchy as we needed to be and they would react with patience, understanding and loving humor, marveling at our sparkling wit and beauty. Back to reality.

Yes, back to reality. Mom just called for the third time this morning to ask if I'm picking her up at 11:30. For the third time, I said, "No, I'm coming at 1:30" only this time I insisted on speaking with Saint Norma, who promised to hide the the phone. Norma hides the dog food these days because Mom and Jack have been over-feeding their little "fish bait dog" (Gary's term), Bailey, way too much food at night when Norma isn't there. I think I've mentioned this before, but Bailey is supposed to weigh 6 lbs and he weighs 12. Jack told me they gave him more food this past week because "it was Halloween and he needed some treats." Alrighty then...

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Sex & Synchronicity

Does the title of this message tickle your imagination? Dr. Pepper Schwartz, renowned author (The Great Sex Weekend, Everything You Know about Love and Sex is Wrong, Prime), professor of sociology and expert on the subject of relationships and sex, was the afternoon keynote speaker at the WomanSage conference I attended this past Saturday in Anaheim. Dr. Schwartz happened to be in the morning breakout session I had chosen, facilitated by Dr. Mary Furlong, author of Turning Silver into Gold, and leading authority on the baby boomer marketplace. I've seen Dr. Schwartz on Oprah. She's one of Oprah's frequent guests and I'm always amused by her comments. Dr. Furlong founded "Third Age Media" and my dear friend, Dr. Ann Harwood of Montana, knows Dr. Furlong and her work. Ann is the person who suggested I go to the breakout session.

So here I was in a small meeting room with two women that I truly admire. Why not go and talk with them? Better yet, why not give them each a copy of my book, The Heart Way-A Journey from Corporate to Care? I've been chutzpah-deficient for the past year or so, probably because of unsettling rejections and an extra 10 pounds. But on this day, I walked right up to both women after the breakout session (which was fantastic), introduced myself and chatted. Dr. Schwartz mentioned that she is a professor at the University of Washington. I shared with her that my niece, Lindsey, is a junior at UW and I would like to refer her to the good professor's class. After all, what college student is not interested in sex? OK, maybe there are a few.

When I left the conference after Dr. Schwartz's delightful and very informative talk about sex after age 50, I called Lindsey in Seattle. She didn't answer, so I left a message telling her I had given a copy of my book to Dr. Pepper Schwartz of UW. Lindsey called back about five minutes later and said, "Auntie Shannie, I'm in her class right now, this term. She's my favorite professor. I'll go and talk to her after the next class and tell her that I'm featured in the book you gave her. That is so cool." Yes, only because it's Pepper Schwartz, this kind of synchronicity just has to be HOT!

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Eye for an Eye

My adorable, demented mom has found convenient reasons why she can't sleep with her metal and rubber eye patch the past two nights. "It fell off." "It itches too much." "The dog wanted to play with it." "I hate it."

I hope she doesn't lose sight in her "good eye" due to inability to follow the post-op instructions. We discussed the patch requirement with her eye doc before she had the surgery and he said she'd for sure lose the eyesight if she didn't have the operation. He's in the top three best doc's in the world for glaucoma, so we went with his opinion. As of today, I've asked the "night nurse" at the assisted living community to visit Mom's apartment at midnight. She will check to see if Mom still has the patch taped on or has taken it off and dropped it onto the floor for the dog to chew up, which is what happened to the first patch, night-before-last. The second one got lost way down under the covers last night, but Saint Norma (our caregiver) found it this morning.

Mom's lack of cooperation where discomfort is concerned reminds me of when I was a pre-teen and refused to wear the headgear that my orthodontist had fitted for me to sleep with every night. I'd say goodnight to my parents, then take it off as soon as they closed my bedroom door. It was too easy, that kind of denial, because I was such a good girl. And I was a liar (ask my old friends, Cappy and Stephanie - I could spin a yarn back then). After a very expensive year of no movement with my teeth, the orthodontist came over to my home, barred his perfect teeth at Mom and me and proceeded to bust me to the point of hysteria. It was way worse than confession and penance (yes, I was raised Catholic). I was scared straight - teeth, at least.

I stopped lying about the headgear, and everything else for that matter. It occurred to me that I'd always get busted anyway, so why bother with denial and lies, no matter how good they seem at the time. Maybe Mom has regressed a bit in that area. She scratches her legs all the time, but denies it, even when we catch her in the act. Still, I won't force the eye doctor on Mom in her own home, mostly because he's not very scary, and he's now in Armenia doing amazing volunteer work with people who cooperate willingly to save their eyesight. And Mom's dementia would just make her hysterical, like a pre-teen fighting braces.

National Family Caregivers Month

It's November - National Family Caregivers Month! Hooray for Caregivers!

If you're looking for a great resource for caregiving information and support, check in with the National Family Caregivers Association - It's the place where I found the best all-around information when I first started taking care of my parents. And I must remind everyone who is caring for elderly parents, spouses or family members to get a copy of author Karen Twichell's book, "A Caregivers Journey - Finding Your Way," and the companion workbook which basically gives you a template for setting up caregiving. It's awesome.

Good Morning America had a splendid feature today featuring Lee Woodruff, wife of ABC News reporter Bob Woodruff who was seriously injured in Iraq. Lee spoke with two other women about battling short-term depression. She was articulate, forthright and compassionate. The segment was titled "Depression Hits When You Least Need It." How true for those of us who have experienced depression in the midst of caring for a family member with a serious illness, incapacitation or an elderly parent, relative or spouse. If you get a chance, cut and paste this link into your browser and watch Lee:
She has a new segment on GMA called "Talk to Lee Woodruff about Anything." BRAVO Lee Woodruff, GMA and ABC News!!