Shannon Ingram's Place

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Location: So 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.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

We're in Escrow

St. Joseph did his job! When we were getting our home ready to put on the market, someone told me about the tradition of burying a statue of St. Joseph upside down in the front yard and reciting a specific prayer for a speedy and easy home sale. I work very close to the Mission San Juan Capistrano, home of the famous swallows that come back every year (although only one or two seem to remember that tradition the past couple of years - most are flying to a local strip mall). I knew there had to be a Catholic store nearby. My associate, Patty, our graphic designer, is a delightful devout Catholic and she told me she knew where there was a store and she would even go with me to find St. Joseph. We drove to the store during a lunch hour. When we went inside, the woman at the cash register asked if she could help and I told her I was looking for a statue of St. Joseph. She took me to the back of the store and showed me some beautiful carved wooden and ceramic statues, each of which was in the $50 price range. "I'm looking for something a bit less expensive," I told her. "Oh, you want to bury it!" she said, adding "Come this way," as she walked back toward the front. There in a big basket were dozens of little plastic statues for $1.50 each. I bought one, plus a book about how St. Joe was going to help us sell our home.

That night, Gary and I said the prayer and buried the little guy in our front yard near the porch, facing out to the street, per the instructions. We also planted an aloe succulent in the same area because someone at Silverado's San Juan Capistrano community told me it was good luck. Gary and I were committed (and still are) to doing everything - from St. Joe to Feng Shui to Aloe - whatever it might take to get the house sold.

Bingo! Within a week we had two offers - good ones, too. We are set to close escrow on December 5th. Our buyers will let us rent the house back till the end of January, so we have some time to look for a rental home in South Orange County. I know it helped to have the right realtor (wonderful Bob Coluccio), the right pricing and Gary's handiwork in doing the "staging," but I'm now a big fan of St. Joseph. Tomorrow I'm taking another associate-friend over to the Mission so she can get some help from St. Joseph too. Her house has been on the market over three weeks with very few showings and not a single bite. I just know St. Joe will turn that around.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Daring to Eat a Peach

Gail Sheehy's most recent book is "Sex and the Seasoned Woman." It's one of my favorites in her library of best-sellers that have so beautifully defined our journey of life, our "Passages." Yesterday I had the profound pleasure of introducing Gail to 300 women, as keynote speaker for the annual WomanSage Conference here in Orange County. For me, it was one of those "bigger than life" moments that take my breath away. Fortuntately, it didn't take my words away. Before I went to the podium for the introduction, I remembered what my friend, David Neenan, told me many years ago when I learned I would introduce another one of my heroes, Marshall Thurber, at a breakfast club meeting in Honolulu. This was at a time when I still equated speaking in front of a room with death. David said, "Speak from your heart and keep it simple." So I drew on that advice again yesterday. The only mistake I made was not being sure that Gail, who sat next to me briefly before her talk, knew that my name was Shannon. She said, "Thank you, Sharon" and then referred to me one more time as Sharon. But what the heck, that puts her in good company with the thousands who have called me Sharon before now. And to make it better, she was indeed communicating with me. I was just fine with being Sharon to Gail. Somehow, I'm certain our paths will cross again and next time she'll know my name.

Gail's first question to the audience was, "Do you dare to eat a peach?" She asks that question in "Sex and the Seasoned Woman." And she explained where the question came from; but I was more interested in thinking about eating that peach - biting through its fuzzy skin, juice running down my chin, my hand getting sticky, the smoothness of the yellow fruit, the incomparable scent - than in taking notes. Thoughts of the peach made the hair on the back of my neck stand up, which is just what Gail wanted. And frankly, I held onto that sensation for most of the day yesterday. It was phenomenal and fun to take time out from all the bad news and the media's non-stop election coverage. I was engaged in celebrating womanhood at midlife. Being with so many women made me remember that 100 years ago, women couldn't even vote for president.

Today I took the real dare and went out and bought some late season peaches. I'm daring to eat one right now - sticky fingers on the keyboard. Mmmmmmm.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Mom Remembers Mary

Adorable Mom doesn't remember details of what happens in her daily life these days. For instance, her brother, my Uncle Cy, and his daughter, Cousin Janet, stopped by for a visit with Mom and Jack the other day. Janet told me they had a lovely time. I asked Mom about it and she said she, too, had a great time. Unfortunately she couldn't remember what they talked about, but she knew it was good.

Some days I wish I was in Mom's place, living more in the present moment and remembering only the good stuff that happens daily and only the best memories from the distant past. That way I wouldn't have to remember anything petty, hurtful or depressing. And then I remember that it's those yucky things that teach us to appreciate the good things.

I'm introducing the WomanSage "Stellar Award Winners" tomorrow at the WomanSage Annual "Own Your Power" Conference in Costa Mesa. One of them is Mary Moore, a well-known Orange County philanthropist who is a huge supporter of the new Womansage "Re-Invent Yourself" program for women at midlife going through a rough professional or personal experience. I mentioned Mary to my mom because Mary has been active in supporting the Rehabilitation Institute of Orange County (RIO) for many years and Mom used to do a lot of work for RIO too. Mom was so delighted to hear about Mary. She reminisced about all the times they worked on fund-raising projects together such as a benefit party for the opening of the Ritz Restaurant near Fashion Island years ago. Mom was the chair of that event and I remember attending it - a black tie affair attended by the Who's Who of the OC in the 70's. Mom recalled that my sister and I wore fabulous black and white formals, and that mine was a black strapless with a huge white pleated "banana leaf" across the front that gave the effect of being over one shoulder. Sounds awful - but I remember that it was quite stunning at the time. My sister's dress was equally beautiful. We were hot. I digress...LOL.

Mom told me that Mary was the backbone of RIO and responsible for raising funds for new buildings as well as ongoing activities. For a moment, I considered taking Mom to the WomanSage luncheon. And then Mom sighed and said, "Now what are we talking about? I seem to have forgotten." I mentioned Mary and she told me the stories all over again. I just smiled as she talked. Best to let Mom be at home in her comfort zone.

Many Baby Boomers like me find it tragically difficult to face the challenges associated with caring for aging parents. I have found eldercare to be like a long and mighty "storm" that flares up every once in awhile (when one of my parents lands in the hospital). The best advice I can offer is something I heard not too long ago: "When you are going through a storm, remember to keep going."

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Little Diney All Grown Up

In a previous post, I mentioned my friend's daughter, Diane, who works in Las Vegas as a dancer in "Jubilee" - the fabulous show at Bally's. I've known "Diney" since she was tiny. She started dancing when she was barely walking and discovered her passion for ballet very early in life. She trained with Ballet Pacifica in Laguna Beach and studied ballet all through school, even at the University of Indiana. The only problem? She's tall, like her mom and dad (our dear friends, Laurie and Barry). She's intelligent, talented and very attractive, but tall just doesn't work in the world of prima ballerinas. After a short stint with the Salt Lake City Ballet following her college graduation, Diney realized her dream of securing a permanent position with a major ballet company might not be realized.

Instead of sitting around moping and crying, Diney began looking for another way to dance. She and her mom went to New York City and Diney tried out for the Radio City Rockettes. Once again, they told her she was too tall. Then one of her ballet instructors in Los Angeles suggested she try Las Vegas. Lo and behold, she found a job dancing - without going topless - for "Jubilee." Although her parents were worried at first, they've since come around because Diney is so happy to be dancing. And the best part? She has a beautiful "solo" ballet with a male dance partner toward the end of the show, to "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" that literally brought me to tears. She's so stunning. I asked her to send me some photos, so I'm including a couple for you to enjoy. She's on the left in the top picture and on the right in the second one. If you happen to go to Vegas, don't miss "Jubilee!" Bravo to our grown-up and gorgeous Diane!

Friday, October 17, 2008

My Boss, Mark, is the BEST

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

To Joe the Plumber

Hello Joe the Plumber,
I'm Shannon the Marketing Communications Director. I've worked for several companies in a variety of industries over the past 25 years. I couldn't afford to buy any of them because each was very successful and had anywhere from 30 to 20,000 employees. I had stock in some of them; but sadly that didn't pan out as an investment. Even the best of them (still in existence) has crashed this week.

Five years ago I had to take a time-out from my career to care for my parents who were suffering from a variety of diseases - Parkinson's, congestive heart failure, diabetes and dementia, to name a few. Sadly, in their mid-80's they could no longer fend for themselves. They couldn't drive, buy groceries, pay their bills, manage their daily medications, bathe without help, even walk independently. I quit my job and moved from Colorado to California with my accommodating husband in order to help them because they have been great parents.

While I was out of work caring for my folks, my husband took a job with a small constrution company that didn't provide health insurance. No big deal. We decided to buy our own health insurance. Unfortunately, that proved impossible because my husband had minor surgery 25 years earlier to remove a small melanoma and I had a recent endoscopy to mitigate a little reflux issue. NO company would insure us because these procedures were on our record. We were incredulous, and angry.

My sister, an entrepreneur, stepped in to help us. She was able to cover me on her small company's health insurance policy because I was doing marketing communications work for her. My husband and I were able to get insurance for the bargain price of $800 per month. According to John McCain's plan, if we had the $5,000 per year credit to get our own insurance, we would only have owed an additional $4,600 per year more than the zero dollars we paid before I left the traditional work force to care for my aging parents.

Joe, today my husband and I are selling our wonderful little dream home in order to avoid foreclosure. You see, we invested the money from the sale of our home in Colorado with money my mom received from selling an investment property here in CA, in order to buy a home relatively close to where my parents lived. Turns out that my parents lost all their money by over-leveraging their other properties in order to live a high-end lifestyle - waterfront home in a gated community, 50' power yacht, yacht club membership, trips around the world, fabulous weddings for my siblings and me. I don't begrudge them their lifestyle. I'm just angry they didn't plan to fund even a SIMPLE lifestyle into their 80's. Worse, I didn't even inquire about what they had planned before it was too late to do anything about it. They ran out of money two years ago.

My sister and I are now paying all of our parents' expenses. We are losing our assets, one by one, in order to preserve a semblance of our parents' lifestyle. It's not as simple as telling them they're out of money and getting them on MediCal. My dad, a staunch Republican, has a big piece of mountain ranch property that has been for sale for several years - but it just can't be sold, for a number of reasons having to do with zoning, water rights and taxes. He owes a gazillion dollars in taxes for the sale of a previous property, the sale of which went to pay other taxes and bills. This year, my sister was forced to sell her home and my husband and I are now forced to sell our home because of my parents' debts.

I'm ready for a change in Washington, Joe. Today my husband and I work for small companies. His company has less than 10 employees. Mine has around 2,000. We both work VERY hard at ages 56 and 58 and there is NO way either of us will ever be able to retire. We saved our money for many years, invested in 401K's, the stock market and our homes. Sadly, our credit rating is now very low because we had to use our credit cards to pay for the high costs of caring for parents who ran out of money. Every day we are faced with having to choose between paying for groceries, gas for the cars we need for work, mortgage payments, cell phone bills, medical co-pays, cable TV or credit card debts. Our home is for sale. We are "rightsizing" and selling dozens of things we love in order to pay bills.

The good news? We don't feel like victims. We know we made our own choices and learned from them. Today we have health insurance, thanks to my new job. That insurance paid for huge expenses related to my husband's mini-stroke this summer. And it will pay for his quadruple by-pass in the next year or so.

Joe, I know you deserve an opporutnity to buy the company you have worked for over the past several years. I want you to be able to do that. And I want you to understand that someone like me who has invested nearly 30 years working for companies that I cannot buy deserves to earn my own paycheck and health insurance - and not get taxed on that health insurance. I deserve to plan for my old age in a way that my parents did not - meaning that I will probably be working for companies I do not own, till then end of my life.

Thank you for letting me voice my point of view to the entire country. I voted for George Bush eight years ago. This year, I'm voting for Barack Obama.

With best regards,
Shannon Ingram

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Lindsey Forever 21

Hard to believe our niece and "rent-a-kid," Lindsey, is 21 this week. Gary and I have been reminiscing about all the fun times we have spent with "Linz." I started babysitting for her when she was two and I had just moved back to Newport Beach from Honolulu. Bruce wasn't really keen on having kids around, but he fell in love with Lindsey, mostly because she was so GOOD. Not long after we moved, Lindsey was diagnosed with a serious chronic blood disease, ITP, which affects blood platelets in a way similar to leukemia. She was in and out of hospitals dozens of times from the time she was two until she was in her teens. Our family learned a lot about immuno-globulin. We now think she may have outgrown the disease; if not, she may need to have her spleen removed some day, now that she's an adult.

The reason I mention this is that her experience of being a child with a chronic disease made her even more magical than she was as a baby. She's always been wise beyond her years, creative, intelligent and tons of fun. Bruce could see that from the moment she arrived to stay with us for a few days while her parents, John and Nancy, went on a short vacation. I relished every moment of that weekend as she learned how to deal with wildcat Poudre (we would say, "Poudre pets you; you don't pet him" and Linz would repeat it over and over - but that way he didn't bite or scratch her) and accompanied me to work at Disneyland not once, but twice.

When we moved to Colorado, five year-old Lindsey flew to Denver by herself to join us for a week at our mountain home. She got to ride a big mule named Munchy who lived in our neighborhood, and to watch the llamas who lived on the property of another friend just down the dirt road from our house. We bought her red cowboy boots, a broomstick skirt and a cowboy hat and took pictures of her sitting on the fence in front of the cabin. She was learning to read then, and we'd sit and read books every night before she went to sleep. She never complained about ANYTHING.

After Bruce died, Lindsey and her parents came to Colorado to help me move from the mountains to my new home in Parker, a Denver suburb, closer to my office. They made what could have been a dreadful event seem like a fun adventure. Unfortunately, the following year, Lindsey's parents divorced. Lindsey came for a week that summer and was more subdued than in the past. We talked about how life changes, sometimes in a bad way, but the pendulum always swings back and it gets better. I introduced her to my new boyfriend, Gary, and she immediately began calling him "Uncle G." He called her "Cupcake" (and still does today). She was a junior bridesmaid at our wedding in 1999, along with her cousin, Shannon. They did a special dance at the reception that they choreographed themselves to a Backstreet Boys number and were a big hit!

Lindsey came to CO for a whole month in the summer of '99. She was 11 years old. We went to the Florida Keys and took Lindsey and her girlfriend, Sydney, to swim with dolphins in Isla Morada, see Hemingway's home in Key West, sample Cuban food at Ricky Martin's restaurant and observe topless sunbathers on South Beach in Miami. Such good influences we are. Gary took Lindsey with him on his rounds as a real estate appraiser, called her his "scribe," and paid her $5/hour for her work. She taught him the words to "Bootylicious" and "Lady Marmalade" which they insisted on singing at the dinner table. We went to Minneapolis to visit Cory at college and Cory became Lindsey's "big brother." Lindsey stayed with us for a month every summer for about five years and even spent a fabulous 10-day Easter vacation in London and Paris with us and Cory and Emilie when she was 13.

I am profoundly privileged to be Lindsey's "Auntie Shannie." She brightens my life in the simplest and best ways - even just hearing her voice on the phone brings me up. Gary feels the same way about being her "Uncle G." She's just a delightful soul. She looks like the actress Anne Hathaway now - stunning! And she works at Nordstrom's flagship store in Seattle, as well as on campus at a ticket sales office while carrying a full load of classes at University of Washington. She and her boyfriendf, Nels, are both in their final year of playing in the Husky Marching Band. We're happy to be able to celebrate our Cupcake's "Forever 21" birthday with her this week and looking forward to attending her graduation from UW this coming spring. We are very proud of her. Happy Birthday DEAREST Lindsey!

Friday, October 03, 2008

Birthday Dance for Bob-Bob

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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Sunrise Sunset

My wonderful brother-in-law, Robert Walker, turned 91 in August. Robert's wife, Evelyn, is the sister of my late husband, Bruce Stewart. I met them in 1975 and we have been close ever since, even after Bruce's death in 1995. We had many fun times together - trips to Ensenada in Robert's van, with stops at La Fonda (our favorite little hotel on the cliffs) and Tijuana. Once in Tijuana, Bruce bought a parrot and brought it across the border in two clay pots. Evelyn and Robert sat in the back seat of the van and I was in the passenger seat. We smiled like "Stepford People," shaking in our boots and praying the parrot wouldn't squawk and send us all to one of those notoriously horrific Mexican prisons. Bruce offered the border patrolman a piece of cactus candy. I almost wet my pants, but the patrolman actually smiled and accepted the treat. The parrot was a "gift" for Bruce's hairdresser at the time. He gave it to her in exchange for "free haircuts for a year." Unfortunately, she moved to Phoenix six weeks later and took the illegal parrot with her. So much for barter.

The Walker's have always loved traveling. They visited Bruce and me in Hawaii many times. We enjoyed showing them the sites and sharing all the great foods of the Pacific and Asia. They have relished several trips to France for D-Day memorial celebrations. Robert, a jovial soul, was interviewed for a 50th Anniversary of D-Day network TV special. He even smiled as he described going ashore with people dying all around him, because Robert loves to smile! His cup has always been half full.

Robert was hospitalized last week with an inoperable aortic aneurysm. The doctors tell us he doesn't have much time left on earth. Robert still manages to smile. Evelyn is relying on the incredible support of her daughters, Janine and Kathleen, both of whom are my age. I'm happy to be here to help Janine with suggestions about hospice and home care and humorous stories to lighten their load.

This past Sunday, after I had talked several times with Janine, Gary and I went for a boatride with our friends, Linda and Bob. The sunset was lovely and had a magical quality about its reflection on the bay. I felt Bruce's presence in the sunset on the harbor. He was reminding me of the comparable beauty that comes not only with the dawn of life at sunrise, but also as it ends, at sunset. I believe Robert knows that too.