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.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Last Holiday Photos






OK, so I can't end today's postings without publishing a few more seasonal photos. Bindi Sue and her friend, Rudolph. Friends around the Christmas dinner table. Holiday boat parade lights. Dru and Larry at the Yacht Club. The last holiday decorations in the living room at our beloved Flower Street home. We're packing up and moving on to a "smaller and better" lifestyle in Mission Viejo next week, knowing that it's all good.

Ready for the New Year






It's been a fun week of being flexible and enjoying all the holiday festivities, planned and unplanned. Mom and Jack are ok, although Jack's foot is still bothering him. He may be returning to the hospital next week. We're so happy that he was able to celebrate Christmas with the family at his home in Irvine. Nothing really went according to plan this past week; but that was cool because Gary and I had resolved to go with the flow. Wow, am I ever glad we did that!

Besides the Christmas day meals with our family and friends, we went to Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula instead of Vegas to celebrate my birthday on the 26th. We spent the night and had a fabulous dinner party with friends who joined us, including our nieces, in-laws, plus Kathy J and Pete J. Gary won and I "broke even." We decided we won't be going back to Vegas in the near future because Pechanga is so wonderful. I had no idea it was a four-diamond resort. And the spa re-opened in November after an extensive upgrade remodel. VERY nice!

Another highlight of the week was a trip to Irwindale to see the Mission Viejo float for the Rose Parade. My cousin, Dru, works for "our" new city and has been intimately involved in the float project all year. My sister and her family joined Gary and me to observe the decorating of the float - and several others in the huge warehouse area. We could have been in Hawaii thanks to the fragrance of flowers everywhere. Pictures are included above. We attended a fun party in a tent near the decorating area and came away with Rose Parade souvenirs.

On January 1st, we are being treated to a fabulous day at the Rose Parade thanks to Dru. We'll be sitting in the bleachers at the corner of Orange Grove and Colorado Boulevards with the "VIP delegation" from Mission Viejo, including Dru and her hubby, Larry. It feels like a great way to start 2009. And I'm ending 2008 with more gratitude in my heart than I've felt in many years. Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Facebook Pays it Forward


I heard a wonderful holiday season story this morning. Our niece, Lindsey, attends University of Washington in Seattle. Her family lives in the greater Los Angeles area. If you've been paying attention to weather this past week, you probably know where this is heading.

Seattle has been buried in snow and ice for several days. Flights have been cancelled and weary travelers were stranded at the airport for days. Lindsey had a plane ticket for a flight to LA that was scheduled to depart Seattle early yesterday morning. She just knew that if she could get to the airport, she would be able to fly home as planned.

Unfortunately getting to the airport turned out to be virtually impossible. She tried friends but most of them were already out of town spending the week with family. She called dozens of shuttle services and taxi companies and not one would commit to taking her. She tried renting a car, but no cars were available. Finally, she posted her plight on her Facebook page.

Enter "Chad," an "acquaintance" Lindsey had met at the wedding of a mutual friend. He is one of Lindsey's hundreds of Facebook "friends" and lives north of Seattle near Lynnwood. Chad read her plea and stepped in to save the day. He agreed to leave his wife and infant in the icy darkness and drive down to Seattle, pick up someone he barely knows at four in the morning and take her to the airport. All he asked was that Lindsey "pay it forward."

The drive from Lindsey's apartment to the airport took only 20 minutes. She thanked Chad, checked her bag and boarded the flight which took off "almost" on time. Today she is here in Southern California with her family, thanks to Chad and his family who allowed him to do a not-so-small favor for someone who needed help.

I'm in awe of stories like this one - stories of people like Chad. I've been watching them every day for a week on Good Morning America and shedding the requisite tears. Today I get to experience one very close to home and it makes me want to get out there and do something similar. Thank you, Chad, and I too will pay it forward. And finally, thank you Facebook for connecting people in ways that are not just frivolous an fun, but virtuous and vital as well.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Just Breathe...and Believe

When responsibility pushes down so hard on you that you feel the pressure is too much and you simply can't be strong any longer, remember this: BREATHE

If you just breathe - in.......and out......several times - the simple physical act will help to ground you in where you are, what you want, what you must do, whom you must confront (even yourself), how to respond. Answers are there for you in the breathing.

The holiday season gives us countless opportunities to understand the healing power of breathing. Family dynamics challenge us. When a sibling, parent, child or friend tells you they need to arrive three hours late to your holiday party or celebration, you can get really angry or upset, or you can breathe. If your significant other doesn't meet your expectation of a good holiday sentiment, you can take a deep breath and look into his or her eyes to find what you want, or whatever it is you need to set him or her free.

Anger begets anger. Pain begets pain. Breathing begets life. Taking a deep breath sets us free; free to experience our own innate healing powers of compassion and unconditional love. Breathing is something we do JUST FOR OURSELVES.

Breathe into your pain enough times and you will begin to experience the gift of healing. For instance, if your are hurting because a loved one's plans are not meshing with yours, breathe in and out and ask yourself what could work for both of you. How might you both accept a positive outcome, given the needs or situations of all the parties involved? What works for you that might also work for your loved one(s)? How can you approach the solution with COLLABORATION instead of CONTROL?

These are heavy questions. The answers carry responsibility. Do you choose to help keep a family together, guided by your intuition and good will? Or do you allow your need to be right - your righteousness - possibly to hurt or destroy a family? This is a common choice we're faced with at the holidays when we find ourselves confronting quandaries and decisions, the results of which might appear to hurt or control our family members, friends and co-workers. What if you don't want a hippopotamus for Christmas? What if you don't like chestnuts? What if you can't sing "Fa La La La La?" It's important to own your truth and find a way for it to fit in with someone else's truth, like threads in a tapestry.

I invite you to take the challenge of breathing the breath of heaven right now - in and out slowly. Take three slow, deep breaths now.

Next, please simply breathe in and pause to notice what you believe in this moment. What's coming up? Now breathe out; then do it again. It's amazing how something so simple can be so healing.

I fell tonight. I was trying to get over the baby gate that keeps our dogs from escaping the premises when the garage door is open. I was headed to our neighbor's home, bearing gifts. Gary was already there. I banged myself up pretty good - once again living up to Gary's nickname for me, "Bangy Clangy Putz & Clutz." The fall was another great lesson to remind me to stay present during this season of haste. Friends and family can't or don't always do what I want them to do. The economy doesn't seem to cooperate with my vision. The airlines can't bring my loved ones home at the perfect and appointed time. I can't bail out of work early to cook dinner for 12. I don't get everything I want. But I am still breathing and life is going on...breathe in......breathe out.....BELIEVE!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas Chaos & Character


Christmas time is chaos time, and I know chaos builds character. This year I'm not stressed out by all the holiday craziness. I can experience the chaos in suspended animation - almost as if I'm observing the observer that I am. Wow, that sounds way too profound for 10:30 on a Monday night.

This holiday season is having a postitive impact on me for the first time in many years. I'm relishing the essence of it all - the faith, love, joy, hope and giving. In my mind and experience, crass commercialism, traffic and excessive partying has given way to the feeling of bliss I mentioned in an earlier post. Part of that simply has to be my work. I work to market an amazing company, Silverado Senior Living - we give LIFE (Love-Innovation-Family-Engagement) to those we serve - namely people sufferin from Alzheimer's Disease and other kinds of dementia. Our operating philosophy is "Love is Greater than Fear." We were recently named as number six on the list of best medium-sized companies to work for in Orange County, CA. What this company does is the essence of the holidays. That I get to work for such a company is an almost unfathomable gift that I humbly accept.

Tonight, after yet another delightful holiday party (this one with the chicks), I'm makin' a list and checkin' it twice to make sure I'm doing good things and avoiding the traps of self-aggrandisement. I'm also getting a big, fat, long, happy, blissful massage for my birthday on the 26th - the first massage I've had in more than 18 months. For me, this is a VERY BIG DEAL. And who is giving it to me? Santa Gary. My hero. The steady guy who just hangs in there through thick and thin, works hard and appreciates his family and friends. He is someone who has learned that Christmas can build character. He's been without family at a time when family means everything. He's experienced chaos too. The kind of chaos that may cause you to question everything you believe. Faith has pulled him through and built his character. He's my favorite character on the planet now - in chaos, at Christmas and always. I'm lucky to be his life partner, wife, lover and friend.

This year, it feels as if many of us are living our own corny, tearjerker "Fa la la la Lifetime" holiday movies. And in the end, life is still good.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Fun with Facebook


There's been a surge in friends of mine on Facebook. All of a sudden I have a bunch of friends showing up from different parts of the world and I'm enjoying reading their status reports and seeing their photos. Makes me want to put more photos into my Facebook albums.

Just this past week, several friends from Business & You and IE showed up - LuAnn, Victoria, Jill, Judy S, Elaine H and Bob M. Patricia is sending me all kinds of goodies for my Facebook Christmas tree. Margaret has been on Facebook for a few months, but we haven't been corresponding much - which simply must change!

Patty, a co-worker, just tagged one of my best photos - the one you see above - of her and Marcelo, another co-worker. They look as if they're ready to walk out the door to go Christmas caroling (and they didn't plan it that way). I tagged a photo of my niece, Lindsey, but I'm not sure it showed up yet. Still a lot to learn. My "little cousin," Shannon C, changes her Facebook photo constantly - which I love to see! She also posts lots of photos of her dog, Eloise (we call her "Miss Elllie").

My "zombie" attacked Sean's "zombie" and of course I lost because apparently I have no weapons and no armor. That kinda sounds like my entire life this past year - almost as if I was attacking myself!

Kim, daughter of Kathy J, returned from New Zealand yesterday. It was fun to tune into her antics a few times a week while she was there, and to know that she was having lots of fun, especially with sheep. I wrote on her wall and said she reminded me of "Uncle Gary" who also has an affinity for sheep. LOL! I promised Kim that I wouldn't stalk her and tell her mother everything I read on her page - but she didn't care. I still felt honored to be Kim's "friend."

Our son, Cory, is on Facebook and I must say this has become the very best way to get all the latest and greatest photos of the grandchildren! And their parents, too! Plus it's how I learned we were having smoked turkey for Thanksgiving dinner.

I'm going to create a Facebook page for Gary so he can see the grandkids' photos and keep track of what his niece, Lindsey, is up to in Seattle. He promises not to be a stalker either.

I recommend Facebook as good fun for Boomers like me who want to do something online besides read the headlines, check stocks, surf YouTube and Google health topics. I feel the same way about it as I did about learning how to use an ATM. Wow!

Mom Update


I have one more message to post this afternoon. Some well-intentioned family members and friends have contacted me recently to ask why they can't come get Mom to take her out to lunch or to their homes. They've inquired about having Saint Norma the Caregiver bring Mom to see them. Unfortunately, it's no longer easy for Mom to go anywhere. Things have changed dramatically since this photo was taken at the ranch four years ago. Mom has enormous physical limitations as a result of her hip replacement a few months ago. She is extremely frail - down from 170 to 130 pounds, with little or no muscle tone. She is primarily wheelchair bound and can only take a few steps with a walker. She needs help to get from the wheelchair to the toilet. The bathroom process is labor-intensive for anyone helping her. Sadly, there have been many recent "accidents" that are very embarrassing and cause her to lose her dignity, which is painful to see. She goes to and from the hospital and doctor's appointments in a specialized vehicle that can take her wheelchair, so one really can't pick her up in a car and go out to lunch any more.

That being said, she will be the first one to say, "I'd love to go out to lunch with you." Just yesterday, she asked me to take her out Christmas shopping. I always redirect the conversations to say something like, "I'd love to go out with you, too, so how about if I come over to your 'restaurant.' We can have some of that delicious soup that you love." And we go to her dining room. Or I say, "You know, it's so crowded in the stores now, why don't I be your personal shopper and bring you the gifts to review and we can wrap them together." It gives her a "way out" without the humiliation of saying, "ARE YOU NUTS?!! YOU CAN'T RIDE IN A CAR!" That would hurt.

I'm letting you know about this because today Mom's great joy is to have visitors at her assisted living community, Inn at the Park, in Irvine. There, she can be wheeled downstairs to the parlor, library, lobby or dining room and enjoy the company of family and friends. She is in familiar surroundings and doesn't get too confused. Her dignity and pride remain intact and she always looks pretty!!

Recently Jack and Mom went to the Newport Harbor Yacht Club for Thanksgiving dinner with my sister and her family. They did ok, but it was an enormous effort on Meg's family's part to get them in and out of the place as well as back and forth from their apartment. A single trip to the restroom was 30 minutes long. We believe that may have been their last visit to NHYC.

If you want to see Marianne this holiday season, please don't wait for her to call you. She can no longer dial a phone number because she gets confused and agitated. Please reach out and call her and Jack, but only between 9 and 11 AM, 2 and 4 PM or after 6:30 PM, because at other times they are downstairs in the dining room. They also live for Friday "Happy Hours" which are 2:30 to 4 PM. If you leave them a voice message, please do not expect them to call back. Jack is blind and can't see the phone to dial a number and Mom is too confused to call anyone back.

All that being said, Jack and Marianne are delighted to talk on the phone if you can reach them, and even happier to be wheeled downstairs for a visit if you can drive over to see them in Irvine. They (and I) would be profoundly grateful for your attention.

Bliss Busters

I had to duck out of bliss on Friday to deal with a shocking phone call about Jack's condition. Turns out the vascular surgeon isn't so happy with the outcome of his procedure. He told us there are three possible paths to choose now:
1) With so little circulation in his foot, gangrene will surely get worse soon. We can do nothing and simply treat his pain.
2) They can amputate his leg above the knee and the recovery will be long and difficult.
3) A "revascularization" - opening up his leg and replacing the vein (Gary called it a ligation), which also means a long recovery.
The second and third option would also be hard on his heart, with a very high chance that he will have a major heart attack right after the surgery (within 48 hours).
Needless to say, Meg and I were in shock for awhile. Ultimately, we worked with the doctors to reach an agreement that he can come home for the holidays, go back on Hospice and spend a couple of weeks in his own bed. Gangrene won't progress quickly because his foot is unquestionably warmer than it was before the angiogram. Right after New Year's Day, we will talk with the doctors about which option to pursue. All of us prefer to be in denial and just enjoy the holiday mirth, so this was a good outcome for now.
This big "bliss buster" combined with holiday shopping and social engagements prohibited me from blogging on Friday and Saturday. I owe you two. Maybe later when I'm in a more blissful mood.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Suspended in Holiday Bliss



This month, important cabinet posts are being filled by President-Elect Obama. Interest rates are at record lows, almost zero. Foreclosures rise every day. Gorgeous forty-something "Friend" Jennifer Aniston posed nearly nude on the cover of GQ. A powerful governor is going down in flames, along with OJ, who's going there via prison. Deadlines, goals and benchmarks appear every day for me and my marketing team, and we work hard to meet and exceed them. The movers are coming to take Gary and me and all our possessions to Mission Viejo on January 6th. With all of this going on, why oh why do I feel somehow suspended in holiday bliss?

Technology plays a part in this. I can have holiday music that I love playing all day on my computer at work and at home (like now). Many web sites feature holiday light extravaganzas around the country. Others show videos of holiday celebrations. And I still have my "White Christmas" DVD and all those corny Lifetime and ABC/Family Channel holiday movies that cause me to spend way more than usual on bulk tissue at Costco every December.

My grandchildren are ubiquitous now. Last night we braved blinding rain and flooded streets to attend Keegan's first Christmas concert at his family's church in Garden Grove (believe me, it was nothing like driving in a Colorado blizzard, but to people in California, a serious rainstorm with temp's in the 40's is debilitating).

Tonight, in perfect chilly weather, we went with Keegan and Kendall and their accommodating parents to Balboa Island to watch the holiday boat parade and see the beautifully decorated harborside homes. People were strolling the waterfront in their mittens, Burberry scarves and down jackets as if we were in Wisconsin. My grandson, Keegan, whose mommy is from St. Peter, MN and daddy is from Golden, CO, went nuts over a snow-making machine that sprinkled soapy little globs on everyone that stopped to be in the presence of "snow." Another home featured a big snowman made of real snow trucked in from nearby mountains. More than once Keegan had to touch "Frosty," and oooh and ahhh about how cold it was. His experience was fun for me, because unlike his mom, dad and Papa, I was raised in Southern California where real snow was a very rare and exciting thing to behold.

My family seems to draw closer between Thanksgiving and Christmas. We gravitate to one another, no matter what's gone on the rest of the year that might have kept us apart.

Soldiers - our loved ones - are fighting in Iraq. Savings and retirement funds have been savaged by something seemingly beyond our control. We may have lost a job or been downsized to the point of doing the job of three people. Yet during this holiday month, it's as if the polar winds, trade winds or the simple winds of change blow family members together. My family suddenly likes to hang out, party, cook, share stories, bond, experience the changes (good and bad) in each other's personalities that happen from one year to the next. One thing is always the same - we still can't figure out fruit cake.

In the days between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day, there is an amazing coming together of all kinds of people - friends, family, neighbors, coworkers, strangers. It happens in a way that diminishes the horrors and upsets that still occur. It's like the Who's down in Whoville who sang after the Grinch stole Christmas. We continue to gather in varieties of groups to enjoy the cherished, corny and very real traditions of the holiday season - joy, mirth, sharing, children, special food, winter, warmth, sentiment, cheer, colorful lights, decorations, candles, music, giving, appreciation, family, faith and love. This stuff just doesn't happen "in bulk" any other time of year. I guess that's why this month is my bliss.

Please have yourself a merry little Christmas. Let your heart be light. Next year we'll still be singing that our troubles will be out of sight.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Jack Jilts Death Again


Hooray for Jack. He's alive today! Amazingly, he pulled through the three-hour vascular surgery yesterday and is doing quite well. He may go home as soon as tomorrow, pain free and able to walk again. Jack is like a cat with 19 lives instead of nine. He was a bit more scared this time, to the point of telling us as he was being moved into surgery that he wanted his ashes scattered at specific spots around the ranch. We could hardly understand him because the nurse had removed his teeth. Somehow I just knew he would be ok and I was right. I refused to see myself telling Mom that he didn't make it through the procedure. Another little bit of gratitude for faith during this month of holiday hope and joy. To celebrate, last night Meg, Gary and I went with our friends, Terry and Bob, to one of our favorite restaurants, La Cave. We toasted Jack with champagne and funny stories about his now legendary life. Cheers!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Wi-Fi-Fo-Fum


Meg and I are sitting in the hospital waiting room while Jack is in surgery. Half of people here are on the Internet like me. The rest of them are sleeping, probably because their batteries are dead. I'm sitting next to the only wall outlets, hiding them with my coat. Today I'm the Scrooge of Wiredom. Woo-hoo! Something I can control while chaos reigns all around me. It would be more appropriate for me to control my coat because the day isn't over and I've already left it behind in the cafeteria and then in the radiology waiting room. Searching for my coat has given me the opportunity to rest my weary thumbs for a few minutes of retracing steps around several hospital floors. Is it any wonder I work for a company that specializes in treating people with memory-impairing diseases?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Molly Christmas




This past year, we got a new dog and lost an old cat. The balance of power in our home shifted from feline to canine. Almost. Molly, our five year-old kitty, has been able to take over as Alpha pet, even without front claws. She and Bindi Sue often have stare-downs that end up as smack-downs, with Bindi reluctantly submitting. My guess is that Molly will retain her title for years to come, even if a new cat joins the family.

Last night Molly and I spent some quality time together wrapping gifts after Gary and the dogs went to bed. She was a "big help," batting at ribbons, attacking wired tinsel garland and carrying it off to her dish, and distracting me to play with her instead of fulfilling my wrapping duties. We rarely get to have that much fun together, so it was an easy choice to play with my nocturnal cat!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Santa Claus Came to Town






Oh yeah...My very own Santa Baby showed up today at our church to listen to the Christmas wishes of our little ones, some of whom even brought their letters to the big guy in the red suit. Little did they know it was one of Santa's greatest "assistants" - Santa Gary.

A huge crowd of children stayed after second service to enjoy a holiday "breakfast with Santa," who arrived with the customary "HO-HO-HO" about 30 minutes after breakfast was served. Yes, he's finally stopped substituting "F-ing" for the second "Ho." In his third consecutive year as the church's own Santa, Gary was in his element, talking one boy into wanting a "Ford Mustang Cobra" instead of a Porsche, and telling one seven month-old boy whose parents were filming that he wanted a new "teething nipple." Every child received a "gift from Santa," courtesy of their parents or grandparents, and candycanes too. It was a delightful, hilarious, unconditionally loving time for kids and grown-ups alike - in fact, for everyone willing to be young-at-heart. There was a health aspect too - Santa Gary must have lost at least two pounds perspiring under his jolly red suit and hat, plus his hypo-allergenic hair on head and face.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Date Night at Woody's


Meg and Alex, the ranch poodle, spent the night with us so Meg could return to the hospital this morning. We ended up going together, leaving Alex in the care of Gary, Bindi and Vanna. Jack was singing to his nurse when we arrived at his room. Apparently he was enjoying the attention. Assured that he was going to be ok till Monday when the vascular surgeon will do an angiogram, I left at noon to run errands. Meg stayed awhile longer and finally left to pick up Alex and head to the ranch to brace for the big winter storm coming our way from Alaska.

Gary and I decorated our Christmas tree - a little less extravagant than in years past thanks to the economy grinch - but enjoyed it immensely. We had some goofy holiday cartoons on the TV and celebrated with some low-cal eggnog. I will be walking three miles in the rain tomorrow to get rid of that one drink.

We promised Meg that we'd go back and see Jack before bedtime, so at 5:30, we headed out in the freezing cold wind - for those of you in the snowbelt, please know that frost forms on our noses in California when the temp drops below 53 degrees, as it did this evening. Nevertheless, Gary wanted to wear shorts and his Reyn Spooner holiday aloha shirt. Thankfully, I convinced him to wear his jeans because we were going to the hospital.

Even with a gazillion poinsettias and hundreds of colorful wreaths hung in the hallways, the hospital wasn't a very cheery place. Jack was totally out of it, probably from pain med's, so we stayed about 15 minutes. On the way back to the car Gary said, "Let's do date night!" So on the spur of the moment and in the spirit of Santa's reindeer, we drove to Woody's Wharf, a much cheerier atmosphere, no doubt because of the bar.

We were early enough for the "blue hair special" - lobster. I sipped my slightly dirty martini and we watched the boats go by, all lit up with twinkly colored lights. The holiday boat parade doesn't start till next week, so it was a nice surprise to see decorated boats out on a blustery December night. The fireplace was blazing and the TV was tuned to the Heisman Trophy Award, which made Gary very happy. All in all, it was a dandy holiday date night for the Ingram's - just one more thing to be thankful about this December!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Bindi's Gift


So this morning started out the way most mornings do. I got up. I brushed my teeth. Gary let the dogs in. I took a shower. Then all hell broke loose. Mom called to say Jack was in great pain. Meg called to say Jack had to go to the hospital. Hospice called to say Jack had to sign a paper taking himself off Hospice services before he went to the hospital. I smelled something foul coming from the dark hallway and walked down the hall to find out what it was. SQUISH. I stepped barefoot into a mound of soft-serve poop on the Oriental rug, a "gift" courtesy of Bindi Sue. Then as the stinky mess oozed through my toes, I managed to get it on my nice black pants. Turning to hop back toward the bathroom, gagging all the way, I also got some on the wall and then on the bedroom carpet. The bedroom was suddenly a crime scene, only with poo instead of blood.

Determined not to let this be a metaphor for the day ahead, I took another shower and washed out my black pants. Gary cleaned up the house, using almost a whole jug of Resolve on the carpets. Bindi was banished to the backyard. I got to work an hour late, with Vanna in tow. Now Jack is in Hoag Hospital and Meg is on her way down from the ranch. Another weekend bites the dust; but I'm still smiling and feeling thankful!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Update about Jack


My stepdad, Jack, is having more big pain challenges. He may have a blockage in his left leg, plus diabetes is wreaking havoc on his right foot. We're working on a solution that won't put him into a skilled nursing facility for the rest of his life. We put him on Hospice six months ago to avoid that, but we weren't prepared for this level of challenge that requires hospitalization. Nobody wants him to suffer in pain, and the Hospice team tells us it's probably best to hospitalize him for treatment rather than simply try to keep his pain under control right now. Bummer...

Meanwhile, as with any of these big challenges with my parents' health over the past few years, I take comfort in food. My delight today is dark-chocolate covered Peppermint "Jo-Jo's" cookies (like Oreos) from Trader Joe's, of course. I bought 10 boxes the other day. I won't eat all of them, I promise. One a day is enough...but they are truly comforting.

And here are some festive variations of the "Gooey Butter Cake" from yesterday's post.

Pineapple Gooey: Add a 20-oz. can of drained crushed pineapple and an extra egg to the cream cheese filling. Proceeed as directed in original recipe.

Carot Cake Gooey: Use a spice cake mix in place of the yellow cake. Ad 1 cup chopped nuts and 1-1/2 cup finely grated carrots to cream cheese filling. Proceed as directed in original recipe.

Peanut Butter Gooey: Use a chocolate cake mix. Add 1 cup creamy peanut butter and an extra egg to cream cheese filling. You can sprinkle the top of batter with 1 cup chopped peanuts if you like. Proceeed as directed in original recipe.

Chocolate Chip Gooey: Use either yellow cake or chocolate cake mix. Sprinkle 1 cup chocolate chips and 1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts on top of filling. Proceeed as directed in original recipe.

Pumpkin Gooey: Follow the original recipe, adding a 15 oz. can of pumpkin pie filling and an extra egg to the cream cheese filling. Bake as usual, remove from oven, cool, cut into squares an dtop each square with a pecan half. Serve with dollop of fresh whipped cream.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Practice Reckless Generosity


T'is the season of giving. And this year just about everyone I know is "cutting back." What I'm learning is they aren't really cutting back on giving, but they are cutting back on spending. Me too.

Last night at a wonderful WomanSage Salon, speaker Sandy Moore (my dear friend, life coach and minister) asked the audience to consider "reckless generosity" this holiday season. That made me think about the hundreds of thousands of important non-profit organizations that do good work and rely on our contributions. We can't forget them.

This year, WomanSage adopted a small town in Baja California, Mexico, for a project called "Shoes for the Soul." If we chose to participate, we received photos of children holding a sign with a number and their first name. Then we could go out and purchase a pair of gym shoes or black dress shoes in the child's size. We could also put other little "treats" into the shoebox; but we couldn't use larger boxes. Gary and I bought a pair of cool sneakers for a 12 year-old boy named Carlos, then added candy and a Colorado Rockies baseball signed by one of the pitchers - a gift we received several years ago when the Rockies were my client. We were really excited about the gift and hope that Carlos enjoys it too! Besides Sandy's inspiring talk, my favorite part of last night was seeing a big van packed full to overflowing with holiday-wrapped shoeboxes.

I digress. "Reckless generosity" isn't just about giving money or gifts. It's about lending a helping hand, inviting a friend for coffee or Christmas dinner, doing something special for someone when they least expect it. In tough economic times, it's about giving a gift of friendship, laughter, spirit or soul instead of a material item. Gary and I have decided that this year we will give the money we would have spent on gifts for friends and family to organizations that feed our spirits all the time and especially in our time of need. We'll still give something to our loved ones - maybe a poem, a card or a great new recipe. That's what we did for our WomanSage sisters last night.

I digress again, but I must share the wonderful recipe I received from a WomanSage member who didn't sign her card (which was a creative art expression by an Alzheimer's patient - synchronicity again). Here it is:

GOOEY BUTTER CAKE
Cake
1 (18.25 oz) box yellow cake mix
1 egg
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
Filling
1 8 oz. package cream cheese, softened
2 eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 16-oz. box confectioners' sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350. Lightly grease a 13x9x2-inch baking pan.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine cake mix, egg and butter and mix well. Pat into the bottom of prepared pan and set aside. Still using electric mixer, beat cream cheese till smooth; add eggs and vanilla. Dump in sugar and beat well. Reduce speed and slowly pour in butter. Mix well. Pour filling onto cake mixture and spread evenly. Bake 40-50 minutes. Don't be afraid to make a judgment call on the cooking time becasue oven temp's can vary. You want the center to be a little gooey, so don't bake it past that point! Remove from oven and allow to cool completely. Cut into squares. Remember these wonderful little cakes are VERY rich and a little goes a long way, even for "piggies like me."

I can certainly relate to this recipe, being a piggy right now, and I can't wait to make the cake. Thank you, dear "sister," whoever you are! Tomorrow I'll share the NINE other versions of the gooey cake! One more way I can practice reckless generosity!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Holiday Genie Martini


The "Holiday Genie"
Loves a Lemon Drop Martini


1 1/2 ounces vodka
1/2 ounce Triple Sec
1 teaspoon superfine sugar
3/4 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
Ice cubes
Lemon wedge
Superfine sugar for dipping
Twisted peel of lemon

One serving...

Put some ice and a couple of tablespoons of water into a festive martini glass. Set it aside.

Please 1/4 cup of superfine sugar on a large plate or cutting board and spread it around. Set it aside.

Mix the vodka, Triple Sec, sugar, and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker half-filled with ice; shake well - good arm exercise - at least 30 times.

Empty ice water out of the glass, rub the lemon wedge around the drinking edge of the glass, then turn the glass upside down into the sugar till sugar sticks to the edge.

Pour strained liquid into a sugar-rimmed martini glass and garnish with a lemon twist.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Christmas Island


There's something about being one with nature - camping, horseback-riding, gardening, touching a plant at Target, appreciating a patch of xeriscape on the highway median or ivy climbing a wall otherwise covered with graffiti - a calming effect that beckons creativity to unfold. Perhaps that's why Kathy J was compelled to write lyrics to an old holiday melody after spending a weekend at the ranch.

In the 1950's, my parents, Marianne and John Sumner, owned The Music Box, a music store in Long Beach, California where people could go and browse the 45 rpm records and long-play albums, then sample them in one of three little rooms with players and headphones. That was in the Elvis heyday. My brother and I loved to go to work with Mommy and Daddy and listen to our favorite records, most of which involved purple people eaters, witch doctors or Mary Martin singing songs from the Peter Pan soundtrack. One song I remember listening to at the music store during the holiday season was Christmas Island.

I was entranced by the idea of living on islands back then. Our family spent a month on Balboa Island every summer. I loved crossing the bridge from land to the island - a magical journey to an enchanted place filled with frozen bananas, walks around the bay, sandcastles, seal sightings, ferry-boat rides, ice cream sundaes at the Jolly Roger and Hula Hoops. When I heard the Christmas Island song by the Andrews Sisters, I dreamed of seeing Santa ride up with my presents in a canoe.

Cut to 2008, long after I'd lived my dream, spending dozens of Christmas holidays on islands in California, the Caribbean and Hawaii, all of them magical. At the Garner Ranch - home of my beloved "blended family," my stepdad, Jack, plus permanent residents Meg, Ted and Hannah - this past weekend, Kathy J, who is taking a hula class, shared that she is learning to dance to Christmas Island. Kathy and I sang the song together on Saturday night, but she refused to hula for the assembled multitude. Instead, today she gifted me with new song lyrics for Christmas Island and I like to think of either Leon Redbone or my very own superhero, Jimmy Buffett, singing them. Here ya go...

Christmas in Garner Valley

How'd ya like to spend Christmas, in Garner Valley?
How'd ya like to spend the holidays away up on the ranch?
How'd ya like to spend Christmas, in Garner Valley?
How'd ya like to hang a stocking on a great big pine tree branch?

How'd ya like to stay up late, like the cowboys do?
Wait for Santa to ride up on a horse with presents for you?

If you ever spend Christmas, in Garner Valley,
You wll never stray, for every day,
Your Christmas dreams come true.

In Garner Valley....Your dreams come true.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Missing a Party



The whole weekend was a party. Even for the dogs. I'm sure you can relate to these photos of Bindi Sue crashed on the console in Gary's truck while Vanna slept in the backseat. It's no wonder that Gary and I returned home tonight and discovered we were too tired to go to a special holiday party we had looked forward to attending. Gary is still suffering from cold symptoms and that's no fun...especially for me. He's the world's second-worst patient. The worst is my stepdad, Jack. I remember once when Jack wasn't feeling well, he jumped out of bed and went to his bureau with the mirror above it and projectile barfed on the mirror, which took out most of his drawers, too - and that meant doing laundry for a week, along with steam-cleaning the dresser, mirror and carpet in the room. Gary hasn't done that yet, but he has an amazing way of gagging every time he coughs, which often means he has to jump out of bed and run for the bathroom, coughing and moaning all the way. We haven't had much sleep the past few nights, even in the otherwise quiet splendor of the ranch. So tonight I agreed to opt out of the holiday party and stay home to rest. That made Gary rest easy enough to grab his big, heavy Carhart jacket and put it on over his jammies as he left the bedroom for the garage to smoke a cigar. As I said, the whole weekend has been a party.

Trader Joe's Rocks

If you are lucky enough to live in a state and town that has a Trader Joe's Grocery Store, and if you are crazy enough to love blue cheese at a time when it's like "forbidden fruit" because it's, well, cheese, then rush out and get some Trader Joe's Blue Cheese Roasted Pecan Dip. Oh my, it's decadent. Kathy J, Linda B and I ooooohed and aaahhhhed about it at the ranch on Friday night as we consumed an entire container along with some very plain crackers. The husbands had a bit of the blue cheese too...but we ladies really, REALLY liked it.

If you don't have Trader Joe's, then go to www.traderjoes.com, click on "Contact Us" and tell them to open a store in your area!!! I still can't believe Trader Joe's is not in Colorado. Gary insists the REAL reason we moved to California was so that I could shop at Trader Joe's. I have only one thing to say about that..."Yep!"

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch...


It's Sunday. I went to the Garner Ranch on Friday to visit my sister and her family. I couldn't get a signal to access the Internet via my crackberry. That meant I couldn't post any messages Friday and Saturday after committing to one a day till Christmas. I'm going to fix that and post three messages today! And the truth is, it was great to get away from technology for a few days. The ranch is heaven on earth and doesn't need to be spoiled by tech towers dressed up like pine trees. That being said, I did notice a bunch of solar panels in the meadow which turn out to be part of an earthquake fault monitoring system. They are also effective "scratching posts" for appreciative steers. That's about as far as technology can go at the ranch, in my experience.

There are dozens of new calves right now, including a two-week old whose mother abandoned her at birth. She's being raised by my niece, Hannah, who has named the calf "Bella." Bella gets several bottle-feedings every day. She also likes to play with the ranch dogs, who this weekend included Vanna and Bindi Sue Ingram and their Labradoodle pal, Marley Bucci, along with Jake, Lucy Lou and Alex Johnson - the REAL dogs of Garner Ranch. Bella ran alongside Marley, who is exactly the same height as she is. Vanna and Bella ran down to the pond together and found their way into the mud. Picture a cartoon movie cross between Charlotte's Web and Bambi and that's about what we had.

More later.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The KTG

Hey - tonight I attended a KTG! Doesn't that sound like the KGB? I loved spy novels as a young adult. Alas, the KTG gathering this evening was simply six women who call themselves a "Kitchen Table Group," an offshoot of the larger women's organization I belong to called WomanSage (www.womansage.org).

This was my first experience of a KTG. There are dozens of KTGs within WomanSage. Our gang of six had a really good time together at the lovely home of our hostess, hanging out and talking politics, sex, manners, food and pets, among other subjects, while enjoying excellent food and wine.

The KTG concept was hatched by Jane Glenn Haas, founder of WomanSage. After conducting a survey about women at midlife, Jane learned that we in the fifty-plus range haven't cultivated many girlfriends. We have a gazillion business associates and networking contacts, but not too many friends who can sit with us around a kitchen table and have a good old serious conversation about a timely topic. I loved tonight's KTG with my girlfriends - Sylvia, Mary, Jane, Linda and Nell - and I'm in for the next one. I hope they liked my salad as much as I enjoyed Nell's nuts, Linda's meatballs and Sylvia's chili.

I'd like to suggest to ALL my girlfriends around the world (namely Freddi, Margaret, Carol and Sharon) that you consider forming this kind of group. If you need help or suggestions about how to create a KTG, please email me. That's for you, Lu Ann and Victoria, Marian and Nancy, Linda and DJ! It's a great way to spend an evening, learning from your girlfriends and yourself about what makes life tick right now.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Wardrobing


Have you ever heard of "wardrobing?" I hadn't heard the term until this morning when I watched a segment about it on Good Morning America. It's the term given to buying something, wearing it once and returning it to the store for a refund. I've known people who do that; and I don't like it. I've been a shopper who has tried on a dress that had a stain on it or smelled bad. Gross. I could tell from the stapled-on tag that it was a return, and it shouldn't have been on the rack.

One of the things that bothered me most about the segment was a young woman who agreed to be interviewed anonymously (face in the dark, altered voice). She said she does it frequently when she has to go to a special party like a wedding or a first date. She doesn't feel guilty because she said the stores are in better financial shape than she is and can "deal with it."

When I hear someone say, "Deal with it," I shudder. I feel the same way when someone says, "Do it now and apologize later," especially when they are doing something immoral, unethical or both. Do you suppose that was what the idiots outside WalMart on Long Island were thinking when they stormed the store on "Black Thursday" (another sicko term) and trampled a store clerk to death in the process? When the store employees asked all customers to leave due to the young man's death, apparently several loudmouths put up a huge fight saying it wasn't fair they should be shown the door when they had been waiting in line for hours. What's wrong with that picture?

When did this lack of manners and common courtesy begin? Is it really the fault of Baby Boomers who are characterized as a self-centered generation? I'm a Boomer and I cherish civility. I like being polite and being treated the same way. Why do we put the most disgusting movie, TV and music characters on pedestals. That Ari guy on Entourage makes me ill. Although I can't stand rappers whose lyrics incite young people to commit lewd acts, I have to admit that the rockers of my generation did the same thing and I loved them. That's a good reason not to criticize rappers. Most of them are sweet little boys and girls in the presence of their mothers, so perhaps there is hope.

I don't really know where I'm going with all this tonight, except that I loved what a sixty-something woman on the street outside Macy's said in this morning's GMA piece. When asked if she had ever done any "wardrobing," she said, "I'm from an older generation and I was taught not to do that because it's wrong." She's right. Our parents and grandparents knew right from wrong and obeyed rules unless they felt a need to fight those rules in a civil way. Why don't we all just watch It's a Wonderful Life again and talk about the movie's message afterwards?! Maybe that could be the cure for wardrobing this holiday season.

Monday, December 01, 2008

The Donut Cake


When Gary and I were planning our wedding in 1999, he wanted a wedding cake made of donuts. He thought it would be lovely and appropos because we both admitted donuts as a vice. I struck down his idea in favor of a Martha Stewart-style cake with smooth white icing that made it look as if it was frosted in a sheet of ice.

Today was the "December Birthday Celebration" at my office. I, along with my boss and one of my assocites, Marcelo, celebrate our birthdays within four days of one another at the end of December. My boss didn't make it to the party. My dog, our office mascot, Vanna, did make it. The cake, pictured above (photo by Marcelo) was showcased on a table near the door. It was indeed a holiday pile of red, green and white frosted donuts, some with sparkly sprinkles, plus a bunch of miniature Christmas tree ornaments placed strategically. Also placed strategically under the cake was Vanna dog, a great lover of donuts who once consumed an entire box of them that Gary had brought home to the garage for a meeting with his stucco crew.

My associate, Patty, had taken Vanna out for a walk when Marcelo and I decided we needed to be on time for the birthday party. Just as the assembled multitude began to sing "Happy Birthday," Patty arrived with Vanna. I watched as Vanna sniffed the air, and observed the moment she knew donuts were in range. She parked herself next to the table where the donut cake sat in its glory. As everyone sang, "Happy Birthday dear blah blah blah blah," I yelled at Patty, "PULL VANNA BACK - SHE'S GOING FOR THE DONUTS!!!" Patty heard me just as Vanna began a slow lunge toward her lucious prey. Patty yanked the leash and Vanna's effort to seize the donut cake was foiled. Vanna made a couple of pathetic choking noises as people sang, "...Happy Birthday to you...." I took a deep breath and in that moment realized how much Vanna and Gary have in common.