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.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Pets Rule

When we are down and out, God shows us unconditional love through our pets! My pets are simply the best - Poudre (cat), Vanna (dog) and Molly (cat). They light up my life and Gary's too. The world may be crumbling around us, but our sweet pets remind us to laugh - and that laughter is one of life's greatest gifts. Poudre, the wise old barn cat, rubs his head on Vanna-dog's hind quarters. Vanna growls. Poudre does it again. Vanna growls and shows her teeth. Poudre slams his head into Vanna's right thigh and leaves a trail of drool. Vanna whimpers because she doesn't like it. Poudre lays down next to Vanna. Poudre weighs 15 pounds, Vanna weighs 47. Vanna rolls on her back and heaves a sigh. Poudre looks as if he's asking for a cigarette. I laugh uncontrollably, almost to the point of tears.

Watching these pet shenanigans and laughing out loud puts me in the mood to work, exercise or sleep - whatever I need to do in the moment. I hope you will enjoy these photos of Poudre and Molly, gigantic Meeko (Australian shepherd who lives with our family at the Ranch) and funny-face black and white Scout (who lives with our friends, the Moore's). Pets are the best therapy money can buy. Gary and I face challenges in a better mindset and heart-set because we are blessed with pets.

By all means GET A PET if you are suffering. It doesn't matter if it's a pedigree Yorkie or a pound puppy, an old cat from a rescue group, or a stray in your neighborhood searching for a decent meal. A pet helps you to feel grateful to be alive, even if it's just to help him or her. Call your local Humane Society, SPCA or rescue agency and adopt a special canine or feline friend. And feel free to share your stories about your personal pet therapy here!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Read this Book

I'm sending you to to discover an amazing little book written by David Neenan with Eric Lucas. It's called No Excuses: Be the Hero of Your Own Life and it's my hope that you will buy a copy and read it soon. I read it in one sitting on Saturday, and plan to re-read it later this week, it's that good. It's not frilly or silly, but it's the kind of book that offers actionable lessons you can put to work in your own life immediately. And for me, those kinds of lessons are worth the investment right now!

David is an old friend of mine, as is Eric. I had no idea they were writing this book together and it was my great surprise to receive a copy in the mail for Christmas. What a treat to discover they have been able to create a small masterpiece for anyone who desires to take passionate action in life. Go for it - get this book. My hyperlink isn't working so copy and paste this into your browser:

Friday, January 18, 2008

Adventure Beckons

Five years ago, Gary and I moved from Denver to California so that I could care for my elderly parents. I spent two years caring for them full-time, then they moved into assisted living and I've cared for them part-time since 2005. I worked part-time from my home office as a writer and consultant during the past three years and wrote my first book, The Heart Way - A Journey from Corporate to Care. It's been a joy to work at home with my dog, Vanna, by my side every day.

Times change. The costs of assisted living and eldercare are high. My parents have lots of assests and not much cash, so my sister and her family and my husband and I have helped to pay for care. This past fall, I decided it's time for me to go back to work full-time and I began my job search January 2nd. I'm excited about finding a job and a company that matches my passion and enthusiasm for marketing, communications, training, publishing and people. I'm interested in industries that relate to what I've been doing the past few years - namely senior services, education, publishing, hospitality and non-profit.

The other part of our adventure is exciting, but also sad. Gary and I have decided to sell our home on Flower Street. We have been trying to refinance for three months, but the mortgage crisis came at a bad time for our needs. We've grieved over the decision, but we agreed to face 2008 with a positive attitude and simply move on to something more affordable for us in today's climate. We'll stay in Orange County, but may move inland. As Gary always says, "Release it to the universe."

Thank you, dear friends and readers, for your wonderful support and compassion. We're in good spirits and see our home selling quickly because it's such a great property. I will keep you posted. Thank goodness I'm still channelling Tinker Bell after all these years!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

When Parents Don't Want Help

If you have a parent over the age of 85 who is in great physical and mental health, count your blessing! Yesterday, I had the pleasure of visiting with my cousin's father-in-law, Mort, who will be 91 next week. Mort is a retired financial executive. He is in good health, alert and quick-witted, steady on his feet and he drove himself from Los Angeles to Orange County at the 65 MPH speed limit. He's one of those elders that gives hope to Baby Boomers like me. My parents have not been so lucky.

There's nothing more frustrating than watching your elderly parents decline in health and mental acuity, unless it's dealing with their denial. A friend of mine called recently to tell me about her experience of trying to help her 86 year-old mother with a plan to support her as her health declines. Her mother is a wealthy widow who has lived alone for many years. She's a corporate executive and is still working every day at the job she has held for decades thanks to the respect and admiration of her younger colleagues. Although she can no longer see very well, even with her glasses, is quite frail and uses a cane or walker to get around on foot, she insists she doesn't need any help at home other than her weekly housekeeper, and she is fine with paying gobs of money for a limo service every day. It's a long story, and very upsetting to her daughter who fears she may hurt herself or be taken advantage of by people who appear to be well-meaning. But any effort on my girlfriend's part to find assistance for her mother has been met with a very cold and emphatic "NO."

My advice to those of you going through this kind of situation is to back off and let life take its course for your parent, UNLESS they are putting someone else's life in danger by driving. If they're just spending their own money to pay for services they want or need, then let them do it. Yes, the spending may have a significant impact on a trust or your inheritance, but it IS their money. Forcing your "solutions" on a mildly disabled parent with little or no cognitive impairment, even when your intentions are the best, will backfire unless you have some level of buy-in from them up front. If you have a polite conversation with your parents about your concerns and they become agitated, angry or defensive, then let it go.

Stop yourself from offering to do things like shopping, cooking and errands for your elderly parents if those things make your own life too difficult to manage. Keep your boundaries. This sends them the message that they will have to walk their talk of independence. If and when they really do need help and they admit it, then you have a window to re-open a conversation about affordable caregiving resources including support from you and your family. In the meantime, don't beat yourself up if they refuse your help. Disengage and love them as they are.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

A Shout-Out to Claire

Have you ever met someone and become instant friends? It's that kind of magical connection that starts with the eyes - and you feel as if you've known the person for several lifetimes? After your initial meeting, you may not communicate often, but when you do, it's totally from the heart and all about empathy and smiles. That's the kind of friend I have in Claire. I met her through our mutual close friend - her BEST friend and my DEAR friend, Char, who worked with me at Disneyland. You might think there is never a boring or difficult day working at Disneyland, but you would be wrong. On some of those bad days, Char and I would have lunch in the Cast Cafe and she would tell me stories of the outrageous adventures she shared with Claire when they were younger and working together at another big corporation in Southern California. The stories made me laugh and afterwards, it was easier to go back to the office and confront a grumpy guest.

When I finally met Claire, I felt as if I'd known her my whole life. She had brought her young son to Disneyland to visit "Aunt Char" and I stopped by their dinner table at one of the Disneyland Hotel restaurants for a brief visit during my "Manager on Duty" shift. Claire was as cool and genuinely attractive as Char had portrayed her - intelligent, articulate, perceptive, pretty and funny.

During those Cast Cafe lunches with Char, when she shared about her experiences with Claire, I told her about my adventures with my lifelong best friend and cousin, Dru. Dru brought her daughter, Shannon, to Disneyland one day and Char enjoyed visiting with them. It followed that Char and I decided it would be great fun to arrange a girl's weekend someday with the two of us and Dru and Claire.

We finally scheduled our girl's weekend about a year after I left Disneyland and moved to Denver. We met in Las Vegas and stayed at the Imperial in a comp suite that Char was able to arrange for us. We had the most amazing itinerary - seeing Danny Gans perform at the Stratosphere, tickets to the Cirque du Soleil's Mystere show at Treasure Island and a fabulous Sunday brunch at Bally's. What I remember most about that weekend is the nonstop laughter - just "old girls gone wild" cracking each other up to the point of tears, be it at the bar playing quarter video poker, checking out the old dudes checking us out, or telling really bad jokes after "lights out" bedtime and not being able to sleep all night because our faces hurt from laughing. It was awesome.

We never did another chick's weekend like that; but we should have. We got together at "big occasions" like Gary's and my wedding in La Quinta, CA and Char's mom's memorial service in Fountain Valley. Char, Claire, Dru and I were still able to giggle and care about each other as if there had been no time in between visits.

Today, Claire is dancing with that devil called cancer. Her husband, son and family are taking care of her at home in Northern California and Char, who lives in Texas now, is there in spirit and will be there in person soon. Dru and I simply pray for her. We send loving energy and support, and yes, we cry a little because we wish we had spent more time with Char and Claire over the years.

Girlfriends are a gift greater than any sweet but corny email chain message or poignant magazine article can convey. Please don't lose sight of that, if you are blessed with good friends. Cherish your girlfriends and let them know how much you love them.

I LOVE YOU, Claire!

Friday, January 04, 2008

My Kind of Contest

If you have read the intro to this blog, you know I'm fond of martinis. Mostly I like the olives, so I prefer a "dirty martini" with Kettleone or Grey Goose vodka. If I'm lucky, I might have one or two martinis a week, but I savor every sip and each precious, plump little green olive stuffed with a pimento or blue cheese. Cosmopolitains, lemon drops and chocolate martinis are really good, too. My choice depends on my mood - and how much I want an olive.

Imagine my glee when I opened an email the other day from a writer who lives in Idyllwild near Garner Ranch, inviting me to be a judge in an arts contest to determine the "best in show" of martini glasses painted by local artists! After giggling in front of my monitor for about five minutes, I responded with an acceptance. We were planning to be at the ranch that weekend anyway, so it was total synchronicity in my book - like a New Year's gift! After reviewing the artsy glasses with two other judges at the wonderful Gastronome Restaurant, I will get to enjoy a complimentary dirty martini and dinner. My sister and her family will join Gary and me for dinner. After the meal, Gary and my brother-in-law can sit outside with their cigars while I introduce my sister to chocolate martinis indoors by the fireplace.

Yes, this is my kind of contest. Things are great in 2008!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Hooray 2008

One of my last well-meaning caregiver efforts for 2007 was to help my sister and brother-in-law register Dad-Jack for Medicare drug coverage. By now I've made it clear in other blog postings that 2007 ranks among the worst for me and my family. When the clock struck 11:59 PM on New Year's Eve, my husband and I raised our glasses and toasted the END of 2007. I gleefully proclaimed, "2007, you can kiss my okole" - which you understand if you've spent much time in Hawaii. A favorite Hawaiian toast is "Okole maluna," or "Bottoms up." Then we toasted to a great 2008.

Turns out that last big caregiving gesture included a HUGE error on my part. Mistakes are great moments when you learn from them, right? I've been saying that since I was 30 and started making more mistakes per week than I did when I was three. Apparently when I wrote Dad's Social Security number in an email to my sister, I managed to combine it with Mom's number, undoubtedly because they are listed together in my PDA, which has a tiny font the size of nano-printing legible only to twenty-somethings.

Thank goodness Medicare told my sister someone would call her back when she couldn't register by phone before midnight on the 30th. When nobody called back on the 31st, her husband went ahead with online registration, but he used the erroneous number I sent him. When a Medicare representative called yesterday to follow-up with my sister, she referred the woman to the online registration, whereupon the woman said, "That's not your father's Social Security number." OOOPS. A quick cell phone call to Saint Norma the Caregiver (because I was unavailable and they didn't want to talk with me anyway, at that point) revealed the correct number. The Medicare rep was able to correct everything and Jack will have his insurance, albeit a month later than we hoped.

I tell you all this because we all make mistakes. We beat ourselves up for them, but that only leads to depression. We must acknowledge our mistakes, figure out the lesson they bring to us and move on. After a short period of self-flagellation, I decided that I must take the time to check all names and numbers in my electronic communications at least twice before clicking the send button. I'm still happy this unfortunate incident happened in 2007 so that wretched year can share some of the blame with me.

Things are great in 2008.