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, February 23, 2009

And the Oscar goes to...

Gary and I hosted an Oscar night party at our home yesterday. As always when we do parties at home, I got a little carried away with the theme and Gary paid the price. My splendid ideas about decorating and cooking for a little party never take into account things such as, "I work for a living and have no time," or "you need to clean up as you cook," or "Gary always likes to spend a relaxing evening watching NASCAR or Discovery Channel while I oooh, aaah and applaud at the Academy Awards on another TV."

Gary spent most of yesterday transforming our entry hall rug into a "red carpet," hanging gold paper stars around the living room and entry, running party-planning errands, planting flowers in the backyard and cleaning up. After a couple of days of non-stop preparations, he finally got to sit down outside on the patio with three guys who weren't really interested in watching the show, but their wives were into it. They smoked cigars and talked about cars.

My friend, Gaye, brought all kinds of Oscar goodies for the party - from Academy posters to framed pictures of her dad when he was married to the actress Bette Davis. Apparently Bette is responsible for naming the famous gold statuette "Oscar," after her bandleader first husband, Harmon Oscar Nelson, who later married my mom's dear friend, Anne, and had three children including Gaye. Bette, who had been "Uncle Harmon's" high school sweetheart, thought the statue looked like "Oscar," especially from behind. Her Hollywood star friends agreed and the name stuck. Gaye was our "guest of honor" and shared Oscar stories with our guests.

Gary's creativity and good work was cheered by our friends, as was my cooking and fancy schmancy martinis. But the Oscar show - presented on the gigantic new "Moe-Foe" flat screen TV, was the centerpiece. And it was the best show in years. Can we top such a fabulous event? Not if Gary has anything to say about it!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Love & Alzheimer's

At our recent Silverado Senior Living corporate retreat, my boss closed the meeting by reading a wonderful article that appears in the February '09 issue of "Orange Coast Magazine." It's title is "Love in the Time of Alzheimer's" and its author writes exquisitely about the topic. Not only does she capture the essence of how the heart continues to work after an Alzheimer's diagnosis, but she gives you a glimpse into the sweet and magical world that is a Silverado community. It's no wonder our company's operating philosophy is "Love is greater than fear." I'm offering you the link so you may cut and paste it into your browser and then read this excellent piece:

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A Farewell to Shoes

I've had my share of crushing blows this past year. Granted they've been nothing quite like the stuff that happened to everyone's favorite "slumdog millionaire," but the worst of them struck hard at the core of my self esteem and joie de vivre. We had to sell my beloved home in Costa Mesa. Our dear old kitty, Poudre, left the planet to join his "great spirit," Bruce (my late first husband). Mom fell twice and spent four months recovering in hospitals and rehab. My cherished stepdad passed away. Looking back, there was a silver lining in each of these personal tragedies - either the elimination of pain for a loved one, eventual recovery and regeneration, or relief from serious financial strain.

By far the most lasting unshakable grief comes from something that might seem utterly benign to most people. I can no longer wear my precious high-heeled shoes. Unlike Imelda Marcos, former first lady of the Philippines, who lost her extravagant shoe collection to public opinion, I lost mine to a bunion. And a hammer toe. On my right foot. Perhaps someday I'll be able to get them fixed; but for now I'm sentenced to ugly, flat, super-wide footwear. Gone are my pointy-toed Jimmy Choo's and sexy high-heeled sandals. I'm lucky if my fat foot fits into a Birkenstock. When I tried to wear my leather boots to work in the rain yesterday, stuffing my right foot into one of them caused the stitching to burst. About the only comfy shoes I have now are Ugg's or equally repulsive Croc's with sheepskin lining.

This is all my fault. At 5'9", I didn't need to wear stiletto heels; but I loved them. I enjoyed towering over men in the workplace, and being just a tad shorter than my husband. I could gain five pounds and nobody would notice as long as I was in my beautiful shoes. Unlike Carrie Bradshaw of Sex and the City fame, I didn't shop at the expensive shoe stores. I went to Nordstrom's Rack or Marshall's and found an infinite selection of gorgeous heels. A couple of years ago I hosted a fundraiser for my church called "A Passion for Shoes." Ten women joined me for a champagne limo ride that began at Off Broadway Shoes, stopped for lunch at Sage Restaurant, proceeded to DSW Shoe Warehouse and then back to Off Broadway. We had shoe trivia contests with our champagne and even put shoes on the table during the luncheon.

I loved shoes so much that I photographed the great ones worn by friends, such as Rev. Sandy Moore, whose foot appears in both photos here. Little did I know in 2007 when I laughed at Iyanla Vanzant's story of learning invaluable life lessons from a foot problem that caused her to give up heels (see first photo of Iyanla's booted foot alongside Sandy's graceful heel) that I would soon be in the same boat - or boot.

In 2008, I was struck by the Big Foot Curse - lots of pain accompanied by the inability to walk long distances in anything but Ugg's, or Gary's sneakers. I went to two different doctors for opinions. I couldn't afford to take time off from my new job to get my foot fixed. Tragically, my love affair with shoes had come to an abrupt and shattering end, along with my exercise program. I took comfort in margaritas and nachos with guacamole and extra cheese.

Maybe I'll get the wretched bunion removed in the next year. Somehow, working for a living is way more important to me now than wearing Manolo Blahniks - or even Famous Footwear. Losing the ability to wear pretty high heels is way better than losing food on the table, friends I love, or a roof over my head (thank you, Slumdog). I haven't given up the occasional pedicure. And there's always jewelry.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Jack's 90th Birthday

Jack's 90th birthday celebration at the Newport Harbor Yacht Club on Valentine's Day was a fabulous party - just the kind of party he would have loved. There were about 60 people in attendance, from Dave Fraser, who's pushing 90, to sweet baby Kendall, who turns one in March. Kirk Moore brought his keyboard and played Jack's favorite songs. Mom held court in her wheelchair and relished every minute of sharing a good time with family members and old friends.

I have to share a funny story about Dave, because it's so appropos in my caregiving realm. He arrived with his beautiful wife, Ellie (pictured here), their daughter, Laurie, who is one of my dearest friends, and Laurie's husband, Barry. After greeting me with hugs and pleasantries, David asked me, "Is this an open bar?" I replied, "There is wine, beer and soda compliments of the family and a cash bar for mixed drinks." His face turned red as he sucked in his breath, looking as if he might explode. "You gotta be kiddin' me," he blasted. "Jack Garner would want us to have a drink. Jack Garner wouldn't want us to pay for our drinks." Ellie appeared to be stunned speechless. Laurie raised her eyebrows and said, "Stop that, Dad." He puffed up a little more and his expression turned into a pout. "I can't believe this. Jack wouldn't like this at all."

I worked for David in his yacht insurance office for six years, during and after college. He and Ellie have been some of my parents' best friends as far back as I can remember, so I'm used to his antics, and I love him. What made this experience of Dave a bit different was the way Laurie stood up to him. As he started to speak up again, Laurie got in his face and said, "That's enough Dad! If you keep this up, you can go home!"

Five minutes later, a more jovial Dave was on the other side of the room, sitting with my mom, raising his glass of white wine in a toast to Jack. I got a kick out of his decision not to pay for his mixed drink and have a glass of wine on us instead. I guess Laurie's threat to put him in a "time out" worked well, because he behaved himself the rest of the day.

This kind of dialog - between Laurie and David - is happening all the time between Baby-Boomer family caregivers and their elderly loved ones who tend to act out in the same way children do. It's what I call the "parenting your parents syndrome." Although it's never easy, it helps to have a sense of humor, and thankfully, my friend, Laurie, has one of the best! And lucky Laurie also has a very gracious and lovely mom to complement her crusty dad.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

My "New" Car

A couple of weeks ago, before Silverado's corporate retreat, I found out my '02 Explorer needed a new transmission. I have known that was coming ever since I paid off the car loan in December. I've never paid off a car loan before this one. Cars bored me after three or four years and I would always trade them in on something new. This car hung in there with me because I didn't have a garage here in CA for the past six years. Well, I had a garage, but it was full of other stuff and there was no room for a car. I simply couldn't justify buying a new car and having it sit out on the street. So I stuck with my good old Explorer till the loan was paid in full.

The second I dropped that stamped envelope with my final car payment into the mailbox at the Costa Mesa Post Office, my car became a ticking time bomb. I heard voices in my head telling me that my car was going to blow up and break down on I-5, leaving me stranded or crunched by a semi. I admit to thoughts of waking up on the pavement, bruised from the airbag and realizing my car was going to cost thousands of dollars to repair. One night I woke up in a cold sweat because I'd been dreaming of driving my car without brakes toward a cliff overlooking the Newport Back Bay. When my car actually started jerking a bit on acceleration late in January, I knew exactly what it was - "car doomsday." And I was right.

The mechanics at Santa Margarita Ford diagnosed my 113K mile engine as needing a new transmission to the tune of $4200 because of the 4-wheel drive. When we said "no thanks," they called back to say they could get it down to $2900. Gary said that was "more like it." I said, "I'll buy a new car."

Gary suggested having my car detailed so it would look pretty when we went to trade it in. When it was finished, I marveled that it hadn't looked so good in years. I spent four hours one night researching the Ford Edge and Ford Flex online. Next we went to look at them at the dealership.

When it came down to doing the deal, we learned that we would have to trade in my Explorer and put another $5K down in order to have a new car payment that was only slightly more than my old car payment. Faced with that reality, I thought about the $2900 for the new transmission and looked at my pretty old Explorer. I changed my mind on the spot. My old car was suddenly splendid, and it was even better when I drove it home with its excellent new transmission.

This was a very big deal for me to choose the old car over a new one. We probably didn't help the economy that much; but I know some happy mechanics. We did our best to boost the economy a few days later with the purchase of another flat screen TV for our bedroom. Everyone in my family is happy, including my Explorer which right now is sitting in the driveway smiling at me in gratitude.

Saturday, February 07, 2009


Last week Gary and I retreated to Temecula. I attended the Silverado Corporate Retreat and Gary made lots of good business contacts, mostly while playing golf. At first I thought the retreat couldn't have come at a worse time for us because we'd just been on a business trip and are still dealing with the fallout from Jack's death. I call it "fallout" because grief and caregiving sort of descend on me like an invisible toxic cloud. It's like reverse pixie dust and makes me feel sick, stifled and depressed. That's the mood I was in when we departed for Temecula on Super Bowl Sunday. I wanted to go out there, hole up in my room at the resort and plead the flu.

Fortuntely, Gary's first brilliant idea was to take me to the outlet mall at Lake Elsinore and suggest I buy some shoes. Then he suggested we visit the casino at Pechanga where I made $400 at a nickel slot machine. By the time we got to the company Super Bowl Party at the resort, I felt considerably better. Gary enjoyed meeting my fellow directors and exec's and the food was good. We returned to the casino and won a little bit more money.

The theme of our retreat was "Heart, Courage and Brains," and was based on the book, "The Oz Principle" by Connors, Smith and Hickman. As I participated in the various agenda activities the first day, I felt the fallout subside. By the end of the day, it was as if Glenda the Good Witch had shot me with a syringe full of fairy dust. I felt empowered and healthy. I was taking responsibility for my state of mind and up-leveling it to somewhere "above the line." I try to approach most situations with a combination of heart, courage and brains, so right then and there, I started applying it to the situation with my mother's care now that Jack is gone.

I've written great things about our company's CEO in earlier postings. He's a paragon of tough love and keen vision, in my experience. He believes that love is greater than fear and his leadership style embodies that belief. He's no pussycat, mind you, but neither is he a predator. What I like so much is that we are truly purpose-driven and our purpose is to change the world, which takes heart, courage and brains.

When I was 34 years old, I took a workshop called "Business & You." It changed my life. It made me want to change the world and make it better and taught me a profound lesson about what one person can do. I call "Business & You" the gift that keeps on giving because 20 years later, I still go back for refreshers every few years. I'm happy to say, the workshop is coming to Lake Arrowhead, CA March 27-29. Gary and I will be there to learn, grow and support the other participants. It's no coincidence in my life that this workshop comes on the heels of a move to a new home, the remarkable WomanSage caregiver cruise, the death of my beloved stepdad, and a fantastic corporate retreat. It will serve to close a cycle of deep learning and growth, and open me to a new level of life-changing experiences.

Ironically, a retreat often helps you step forward on a new and better path. This one certainly did just that for me. I love my life.