Sunday, September 22, 2013

A Prisoner of Conscience

Today I drove my Dad up Mount Lemmon. There was an Octoberfest at Ski Valley at the top, but when Dad saw the $5 parking fee he declined to attend at all. So we made a brief detour to Marshall Gulch beyond Summerhaven, and then drove back down.

On the way down, we turned in at the Gordon Hirabayashi Recreation Area, but the gate was closed perhaps a hundred yards in. There was a fire in the area in July, and apparently it is not yet safe for visitors to return. The prison camp ruins are still accessible, but we didn't stop for that. I have previously taken pictures, though.

As we turned toward Tucson, I tried to tell my dad about Gordon Hirabayashi, a college student who committed civil disobedience in response to racist policies (curfews, interment camps and a required loyalty oath) applied to Japanese Americans during World War II. From what I've read, he actually asked to have his sentence for breaking curfew extended so that he could serve his sentence at the Federal Honor Camp on Mount Lemmon, where conscientious objectors, deserters, and illegal immigrants were put to work building Mount Lemmon Highway. The government refused to pay Hirabayashi's way to Tucson, so he hitchhiked here and showed up at the camp. Even then, they didn;t have the proper paperwork to incarcerate him. They sent him back down the mountain, where he took in dinner and a movie before returning when they were ready for him. Hirabayashi later argued his case before the Supreme Court and lost. It wasn't until the Reagan era that the government finally admitted wrongdoing in the wartime anti-Japanese hysteria and apologized. Hirabayashi became a sociology professor, and attended the renaming of the prison camp ruins in his honor in 1999. He died in early 2012.

Great story, but my dad wasn't listening, partly because he has a cold and his ears are stopped up, so he was extra-deaf today. But after I dropped him off at his place and drove away, I was pleased to hear Gordon's story retold on the local radio show Arizona Spotlight late this afternoon. They were supposed to post something about it online, but they haven't yet done so.


Saturday, September 21, 2013

Round Robin: Surrounded by History

For this week's Round Robin Photo Challenge: History!, I asked to see anything historic, with a number of suggested ways to interpret that term. My inspiration was a recent trip to Ft. Lowell, which I've photographed before for this Challenge. We'll get to that in a moment. But I'm also reminded tonight of a walk I took in Lucerne, Switzerland when I was 15 years old. All on my own for a few hours (maybe my brother was with me; I dont remember for sure) during a family bus tour of Europe, I walked over an old wooden bridge on which were painted frescoes of the Danse Macabre. I absolutely loved it. Part of what impressed me was that that bridge was older than the United States. Arizona as a state is especially recent - it was the last of the lower 48, coming in on February 14th, 1912, just over a hundred years ago.

But it doesn't mean this place doesn't have much history. I've showed you the ruins of Casa Grande, which go back much further than that bridge in Lucerne. Indigenous peoples were all over this land a very long time ago. Then came Padre Kino and, separately, the Spanish conquistadors, and eventually the Anglos arrived. And in 1953, an architect from Switzerland, Josias Joesler, designed the church I attend and am employed by. It was one of the last of many well-regarded projects he did here in Tucson.

Let's start with Ft. Lowell. Now it's a park, but its main claims to history are the ruins of adobe buildings from the fort that was active there from 1873 to 1891, and a little museum.

Now it's well inside the city limits, but back in the day it was miles away from Tucson on horseback. Officers' wives looked forward to their shopping trips into Tucson, which wasn't exactly the Big City, and still isn't.

Among the people stationed there during the fort's brief heyday was a surgeon named Walter Reed.

Yeah, okay, maybe that's not the most fascinating history ever. Let's venture 70 miles southeast - to Tombstone!

As I mentioned in a previous post, I took my Dad down to Tombstone on Labor Day weekend, pretty much on the spur of the moment. I was planning to go to Bisbee, but Tombstone was on the way. As we drove through there were people in costume standing around and I thought, never mind Bisbee today! As we got out of the car I heard gunfire - but it turned out to be only where paying customers could watch it. No matter.

It turned out that Tombstone was hosting a Redezvous of Gunfighters that weekend.

And there were all sorts of characters wandering about!

I even saw Bat Masterson, who left town months before the gunfight that made Tombstone infamous.

Of course the gunfight that Tombstone is famous for took place at the OK Corral - except that it didn't. Virgil, Morgan, and Wyatt Earp, and Doc Holliday faced off against Tom and Frank McLaury, and Billy and Ike Clanton in a vacant lot and alley behind the corral, and on Fremont Street. But as at least one writer has noted, that doesn't look good on a move marquee..

 The front of St. Michael's, 60 years after it was built.

I'm in the middle of promoting and preparing for St. Michael's 60th Anniversary. As I mentioned above, it was originally designed by a rather well-known architect named Joesler, who liked a "romantic revival" take on Spanish Colonial style. I've just started going through church archives and digitizing old photos and documents. I obviously didn't take any of those 1953 photos (I was only 6 years old, and living in Manlius, NY!), but if you're interested in history that goes almost exactly 60 years in Tucson, Arizona, you may want to scroll down for a peek at some of my recent entries. Then take a look at the other Robins' historic photos!


Linking List
as of Saturday, September 21st, 2013

Freda - Posted!
Day One

Karen - Posted!
Outpost Mâvarin

Carly - Posted!

Jama - Posted!
Sweet Memories

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Old Tech, New Tech and Just Plain Buggy Tech

Because my Dad is sick with a cold, we didn't spend the whole afternoon together. I took him to Quizno's for a meatball sub (which he didn't even almost finish) and then to Robert's Barber Lounge for his monthly pampering - a deluxe shave and trim, complete with hot towels and scalp massage and attention to nose and ear hairs, followed by fingernail trimming. When he got back, they were serving rainbow sherbet in the dining hall, which made for a nice surprise.

After dropping my Dad off, I was able to put in a belated appearance at a wedding reception, bring John some lunch, and take the dogs to St. Michael's for a late afternoon session of playing in the park and working in the office. St. Michael and All Angels is having its 60th Anniversary this year, and we've chosen our patron saint day, Michaelmas, for the celebration, transferred to the last weekend in September. I'm right in the thick of the preparations, updating the church website, coordinating the efforts of others on publicity, editing the 60th Anniversary issue of The Messenger, and posting about the anniversary to social media sites.

One part of the preparations that I consider of particular importance (is that enough "p" words for ya?) is research into the church's history. If we're going to celebrate 60 years, it's good to know and talk about what happened in those years. So parishioners Jo Leeming (of the St. Michael and All Angels Vestry), Ila Abernathy (of the parish's Guatemala Project) and I procured a key to the church's archives, which are stored in the Womble Library. We oohed and ahhed over our discoveries there, pulled out several of the more important notebooks and envelopes, and brought them to my office at church. This afternoon was the first chance I've had since then to take a look.

I only got through half a notebook, but it was mostly really important stuff. There were pictures from the church's construction, dated September, 1953. Two of them were dated September 14, 1953, exactly 60 years before the day I scanned them on my office computer:

This is the interior of the church, with a man looking up at the eastern wall. The walls had not yet been plastered, and the floor had not yet been laid. But the place was already rather beautiful.

This appears to be a view from the main entrance, looking north 90 feet to where the sanctuary would be. The white cross seen here was an opening in the original north wall, into which the stained glass cross would be added. The northern end of the church has since been expanded twice, once in 1964 to add the transept (the size sections in front) and apse (a place for the high altar), and again in 1998 to add the organ chamber behind the sanctuary. The glass cross is now in the western wall, near where the choir sits.

There were more photos from later in the month, but it's clear that the building wasn't finished by Michaelmas, 1953. The dedication and first service was held Sunday, November 29th, 1953. There was a newspaper photo of that, along with a few color snapshots. Another small batch of photos showed the church as of the day after Christmas, 1953.

"God gave me a church with guts!"

I also found an expansion feasibility study from 1959, apparently printed on ditto master or mimeograph. If you're under 40 years old, you probably don't know what those reproduction technologies were like, but I used to struggle with them in my high school days. Even in 1981, when the church printed a little black and white newsletter thingy titled "God Gave Me a Parish With Guts!", the pictures in it were dark and dot matrix-y. The newest thing I saw was a printout of an email from 1999, in which the original rector, Father John Clinton Fowler, wrote about acquiring a used pipe organ for the church, late in his tenure. It only cost $200 plus installation, but appears to have lasted only a few years before it fell apart. The replacement organ, dating from 1959 and originally built for a Cincinnati church, cost many orders of magnitude more than that to buy and install, but it's one of the best organs in this part of the country, so there.

But there you go. Even in 1999, for an important historical document, the way to preserve the data was to print it out. I started retyping the thing as I was scanning the photos, because it's not long enough to fuss with OCR for, even if I had a decent OCR program.

Still, much as I want to laugh at the old snapshots and dittos and other outdated technology found in the church archive, limited as they are in quality and shareability, I'm grateful that people took the trouble to make those physical records and preserve them. Many things from the past aren't around any more at all - or, if they are, they aren't online where I personally can get at them! I've looked at old photos and even silent black and white footage of Stalag Luft 1 where my dad was a prisoner, and at old photos of World War II squadrons and bomb groups; but I've yet to find one (outside of my Dad's small personal collection) that has my Dad in it. Large numbers of Doctor Who episodes from the 1960s and 1970s were wiped by the BBC, along with Apollo 11 footage and other important stuff. The technology of the items in the church archive is outdated, and nobody gets to see it because it consists of fragile bits of paper, locked up in a cabinet so it won't disappear or get destroyed. But the point is that it hasn't been lost or destroyed. It is therefore now available to me, to digitize and share with the world, or at least the parish.

St. Michael and All Angels Church as of December 26, 1953. 
This innocent photo killed my index page tonight.

And it's not as though current technology is so much more reliable than what they had in 1953 or 1959 or 1981. I already told you about my recent malware problems, and I can't get my new Family Tree Maker program to run for than a few seconds before crashing. More to the point, I tried to add a few of the images I found today to the church website, which is hosted on Godaddy. No matter how carefully I typed or copy-pasted the image's URL, no matter how many times I edited files to make them shorter, uploaded them again and gave them less problematic file names, my edited web page refused to display them. I had to let the church blog host the photos. At one point I added one measly photo to the church's main web page and saved it, only for the whole page to have been randomly ruined by my SeaMonkey Composer program. It's not the first time this has happened, either. Tonight, all the < and > marks were replaced with the HTML markup that makes them not be HTML tags any more. Last time, which was only a week or so ago, all the image URLs suddenly pointed to my hard drive instead of the web site, even though they were all previously in there with the full web addresses. Both times, I had to grab a Google cache version of the page, clean it up and repost it. I should know better, and always keep a backup before I edit a page.

 The back of the church, December 1953.

It's going to be worth it, though, right? If I can just get all the best of this old stuff scanned, uploaded and displayed, on web pages and pdfs that are consistently readable and glitch-free, then, THEN, we'll have the best of old and new.


Saturday, September 14, 2013

Just a short note tonight

I think I've gone as far as I can at the moment with this business of writing about my Dad, at least on a day-to-day basis. I've pretty much said what I wanted to say, and complaining about the situation every night doesn't help. There aren't that many things that happen to my Dad on a given day, nor things he does and says that are substantially different from what he did or said the night before.

Tonight he has a cold. Also, the bump on his hand is actively hurting now, not just being annoying. But that's the sum total of news.

I'm going to try to keep up on the blogging, but it's best that I find other things to write about besides this one depressing area of my life.


Thursday, September 12, 2013

progris riport

Tonight when I went to see my Dad, he was napping in his lift chair, which he's never learned to operate other than just sitting in it. (Not that he needs the lift function, but I'm sure he's unaware that there is an electric motor or a remote control.) The room was dark, and for a moment I didn't think he was even in the room.

I turned on the light, and he was glad to see me. He told me about things he wanted to get done: a manicure, ear hairs trimmed, nose hairs trimmed, a shave that isn't really needed at the moment, and trimming of his already neat hair. He's constantly frustrated that he can't find scissors, razors and clippers sitting around - except when they are, because someone forgot to lock something up. When he does find a razor or scissors he always ends up mildly injuring himself, but he doesn't understand or remember that. Neither does he understand when I explain that having these tools accessible is against the rules, that he's not allowed to shave himself. I tell him that the caregivers do have the tools and it's their job to shave him and trim his nails. He only has to ask. Dad's response is basically to shrug and indicate that he has no idea what I'm talking about.

Dad also did a little inventory of the things on his little table, pointing out to me a water bottle, half full and with the cap on; his glasses case, in which he keeps both his glasses and a small black comb; and a white handkerchief. He had pulled the handkerchief from his pocket along with the pocket lining, which was poking out of his pants, completely inside out. He seemed to think he needed to remove the lining before the pocket would be truly empty. I told him it was okay to push it back in, and did so for him.

I also tried, two or three times, to explain that the nurse practitioner had not frozen the wart or lesion off his hand yet because she wanted me to sign off my permission for this minor surgery, which I did tonight. All he did was push against the bump and explain that was the best he could do with it.

This is a man who was a PhD, a college dean. Now he doesn't know how a pocket works.

As I pulled out of the facility's parking lot, it occurred to me that I'm living in a rewrite of "Flowers for Algernon" by Daniel Keyes. In case you're unfamiliar with the story, let me explain. It's a science fiction tale of a mentally challenged man who receives an experimental treatment, as does a rat called Algernon. Over the course of a series of progress reports, Charly becomes more intelligent, to the point where, as a genius, he takes over the research into his own case. The rat dies, the research fails, and Charly ends up back where he started intellectually.

My dad's case isn't science fiction. There is no experimental treatment on offer. Over the past few years he has slid further and further, from near-genius level intellect to an utter inability to understand anything beyond the most concrete facts. But I know that somewhere out these in the world, researchers are working on understanding how Alzheimer's does its damage, how other forms of dementia arise, and what can be done about it. None of that is going to help my Dad. At the risk of being selfish, though, I hope to God they find some answers in time to keep me from losing the ability to understand what a pocket lining is.


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

No Entry

There will be no entry here tonight, other than this notice that there's no entry. I've been uo way too late, way too many nights in a row, to tackle a significant bit of writing at 1 AM tonight.

But yes, I saw Dad, and no, nobody's taken that wart thing off his hand, yet, but the nurse I like and trust is going to try again to bet it taken care of. Dad again described a series of occurances, vaguely but at some length, which I eventually figured out were tv shows he had watched. He does that - he gets invested in a tv show even if he doesn't understand what's going on, trying to help the people on the show accomplish whatever it is they are doing.

At the vet's office two weeks ago
The dogs had a busy day - hanging out at St. Michael's and visiting the park behind it twice, with two trips to PetSmart later in the day. The afternoon trip was a private lesson for Cayenne, with Kito tagging along. The evening one was a class for Kito in a group session. Kito was so frightened of going to PetSmart without Cayenne that he refused to get in and out of the car, and peed on the seat cover. But the "lie down" command that he completely failed to do in class was one he accomplished easily once he was safe at home with Cayenne.

Tonight I also worked on the 60th Anniversary issue of The Messenger - not the 60th of the publication, but of the church the publishes it. More on that later.


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Welcome Home, Computer!

I got my computer back tonight, after work, after visiting Dad, but before picking up chicken wings for dinner at 8 PM. So far it seems to be fine. I've spent the evening setting it up, answering some email, updating the church's music page, and tweaking the photos in entries made over the weekend using my iPhone. Smartphones are wonderful things to have, but they are still extremely clunky to use for conventional blogging.

Monday has come and come, a day when a visiting nurse practitioner was supposed to freeze off a growth (a wart?) on my Dad's hand. It's still there. I've repeatedly requested that somebody do something about it, but I suspect that the visiting medical people mostly ignore the notes from the facility's nursing staff, let alone secondhand requests from family members of residents. But I'll keep trying. Also, where are the other seven pairs or so of my dad's pants? Thursday is his laundry day, and half his laundry doesn't seem to have made it back to him room yet. It's hard to check on all this stuff when I don't get there until after 7 PM, when everyone is gone for the night except for the evening caregivers.

Other things I want to discuss with someone there when I can include Wil's suggestion about posting Ruth's obituary, and what and how he is doing with scheduled activities. I have tried to get him involved with drawing things and he isn't interested. I took him into a hobby shop with train stuff and he wasn't interested. A few days ago he apparently was involved in some sort of craft project, but I was completely unable to deduce what it was he was trying to do or make, and what went wrong. Whatever it was, I don't think he finished it. But I'd still like to find something he can do besides watching tv without comprehension, looking over newspapers, going to meals, going out with me and obsessing about his facial hair. That's his world right now.


Monday, September 09, 2013

Travels With Frank: The Small Stuff

I didn't get my computer back today. In fact, I haven't heard a word from Staples since I prepaid for the servicing. I hope they didn't forget that I came in and paid, and that the computer isn't impossible to clear of malware. I should have called today, but forgot until after Staples' closing time.

So let me just post a few photos with a brief explanation. My dad is very interested in visual detail, something he's still capable of as words and concepts and memories of past and present increasingly elude him. Before the strokes and Ruth's death, he used to build extremely detailed Model railroading layouts in N-scale, the smallest of the commonly available sizes for such things. I'm told that he used to paint even the faces of tiny people inside the N-scale school buses and the like!

So today, when I realized that the Gadsden-Pacific Toy Train Operating Museum reopened today after bring closed all summer, I took him down there for a very enjoyable 45 minutes or so. I just wish there was a way to get him involved in working on such things again, instead of just looking at them. But I suppose that's asking far too much if him at this point.


Sunday, September 08, 2013

Travels With Frank #7: Wandering the Desert

Saturday is my day to take my Dad out for "lunch and adventures." I had an idea today that I might try again to take Dad down to Bisbee, Arizona, but it was raining and the check engine light is on on the Prius, We started out east on I-10, but I pulled off at the exit for Vail and Colossal Cave. We drove down to Colossal Cave at the very end of Old Spanish Trail. At the entrance I asked whether there is anything to do there on a rainy afternoon with a man of limited mobility. Not really, was the answer, because "it's mostly all stairs in there." In the cave, I presume. Stairs. Go figure.

So I drove up Old Spanish Trail, and we took the loop road in Saguaro National Park East. Dad kept asking how long the loop was. It's only 8 miles, but with a speed limit of 15 mph on a one way road with steep hills and hairpin turns, it takes a while. Dad was bored. He's not very interested in nature. He'd rather have lots of signs to read, and traffic to keep an eye on. "How much did this cost?" He asked, with the implication that it wasn't worth it. But it was free today. The first time we went there, I got a lifetime Golden Age pass for a pittance. It gets us into National Parks, Forests and Monuments for the rest of Dad's life.

Saguaro National Park East.

After that we stopped by St. Matthew's Church briefly, where I work on Thursday afternoons, and then went on to Amber Restaurant on Tanque Verde. Tucson apparently doesn't have a German restaurant but it has two Polish ones. Amber's pierogies, red cabbage, sauerkraut and sausage are all quite good.

Ice cream at Amber Restaurant.

To finish up the afternoon we followed Tanque Verde until it turned into Redington Rd, and that until it became the rough dirt road of Redington Pass. On the way back I drove around the parking lot of Agua Caliente Park. Again, Dad wasn't interested, except in the people in the parking lot. He thought I should ask a woman in the parking lot, but I don't know what the question would have been.

Oh, and Dad asked again today about his wife. Once I realized that he really did mean Ruth, my stepmother, I told him again that she died of cancer last year. I said that Ruth told me before she died that she always thought she'd be there to  care for Dad, which is true. Then I said Ruth passed on that responsibility to Jan and me, which is something she didn't actually say out loud to me. But it's true anyway. Dad smiled and laughed, and asked no more questions.

Redington Pass.

Twists and turns.


Saturday, September 07, 2013

Round Robin: Odd Behavior

For the "Round Robin Challenge: That's Odd!, I was counting on having, at the very least, access to my computer, with its thousands of recent and archived photo files. But my computer went into the shop yesterday, badly infected with some pretty devastating malware. So the only photos I have for tonight are whatever I can photograph tonight with my iPhone, whatever happens to be on my iPhone already, and whatever is already online. The latter category would smount to reruns, so let's stick with the first two options. As it happens, there's something I can show you that fits the topic two different ways, and illustrates something I wanted to write about anyway.

Above you see an odd number of newspapers: three to be exact. My Dad had them in the seat compartment of his walker tonight. After mentioning them several times - not by name; he seldom finds the right noun - he pulled them out and showed them to me. When I offered to take them and recycle them, something I do a couple of times a week, he gave them to me.

He then showed me how he had them in date order, with the dates circled in ink. He had put each one together with a rubber band around it. When he tried to show me that the Thursday paper had a calendar section, that newspaper's rubber band broke. Dad fretted and apologized. 

"It doesn't matter," I told him.

At this stage in his life, my Dad has no idea what I do with the newspapers, what recycling is, that the order and condition of the papers don't matter, that the rubber bands don't matter. He probably thinks, if he has any theory at all, that I take them home, read them, and file them carefully away in date order. This is despite the fact that he often sees newspapers floating around in my car.

I do think it qualifies as odd behavior, the care he takes over these newspapers, circling the dates and keeping them neatly arranged in perfect order, only to relinquish them to me. But the need to be methodical and organized has been part of my Dad's behavior for decades. When I was a kid, my Dad had a numbered list for each family member's Christmas presents - with the corresponding number - K-5 or S-11 or whatever - written on the bottom of the gift's meticulous wrapping. One year when we left on vacation, my Dad checked off three lists - stuff to pack, and the order in which to load them in the car; things to be done to keep the house safe, such as stopping the mail and turning off the thermostat - and I forget what the third list was!

Anyway, that's my main odd photo for the night, showing an odd number of oddly marked used newspapers, oddly obsessed over by an old man. But I can show you two other oddities, if you like. I photographed them 15 months ago - for an identical Round Robin topic, it turns out!

Now let's see what other oddities people have found!

Linking List
As of Saturday, September 7th, 12:17 am MST

Outpost Mâvarin



Friday, September 06, 2013

Travels With Frank #6: Inanimosity

This morning I got a call from a friend at St. Michael's, who is working with me on preparations for the church's 60th anniversary celebration later this month. We compared notes on how busy we are and how much sleep we're not getting. When I mentioned that Dad appeared not to know who I was last night, she told me not to worry. "That's just sundowning. Your dad is fine." Apparently, being more confused and memory-impaired at bedtime is a known phenomenon for dementia patients. What a relief!

So I carried on with the day, taking my computer and two external hard drives to Staples to get rid of the ransomware and adware. It's going to take 72 hours and $150 to get it done, but the work is guaranteed. John is unhappy. He's sure I must have been careless somewhere along the line. I really don't think so. The only things I can think of are opening apparently real but lesser-known genealogy sites, and a suspicious ad I tried to decline, not open, on a major site that should have been safe. And Norton 360 was running the whole time.

I dropped off the computer and went to work at St. Michael's, where my financial software stopped communicating with the server at one point and I had to reboot. Then I struggled to print some fliers, which looked exactly the same whether set for color or grayscale printing. (It turned out all four ink cartridges were on empty.)

As I prepared to leave for my third job, the Staples tech called, apologetically, to say he forgot to collect the fee in advance, without which they weren't allowed to start work. I went back over and took care of it, so the clock could start running on the 72 hours. Years ago, before iPads and iPhones, giving up my computer for three days would have been a major inconvenience. As it is, I'm writing this blog entry on my phone, which is less than ideal but doable. The thing I really need a computer for, scanning material from the church archives, I would (and will) do on my computer at church in any case. The matter of the computer being missing from my office at home seems strangely unimportant.

But what is it with me and computers today? At St. Matthew's this afternoon, I was about a minute from finishing the data entry on the weekly deposit when QuickBooks crashed with an "unrecoverable error." Really? Et tu, third recalcitrant computer of the day? Years ago, John coined a word, "Inanimosity," to describe the apparently hostile behavior of inanimate objects. That's what I experienced today.

And so did my Dad, as far as I can tell. Tonight he seemed to have no trouble knowing who I was (I got there by 6 PM) and launched into an attempted description of his day. He seems to have almost accidentally joined in on a group activity, some kind of craft project. At first he thought he had what he needed to start putting things together, but later on he felt he needed more of some things but there wasn't any more, or nobody gave him any more, and he decided he wasn't really part of the group activity after all. At least, that is my best guess about what he thinks happened today. It's hard to tell when most of his nouns and adjectives are the wrong ones, descriptions are vague and the gap between reality and his understanding of it is likely to be substantial.

But I do know that months ago he was in a painting activity, and the instructor completely ignored him for most of the class and worked extensively with others instead. Dad didn't know how to proceed to another part of the painting, and as far as I know he hasn't done any drawing or painting since. And this is a man who painted his wife's portrait, and used to build and paint detailed railroad layouts in the tiny N-scale, right down to the faces of the tiny people.


Thursday, September 05, 2013

Travels With Frank #5: Is He Kidding?

I had to work late tonight. I was supposed to be off work at 6 PM. Then there would be a half-hour drive across town to see Dad, and then I would have to go buy dinner, and then I would be able to go home and eat dinner. But my boss was still adding to my workload when 6 PM came. I ended up leaving work at 7:30  PM. So I didn't reach Dad's room until after 8 PM. He was in bed. That's the second time in two weeks that work obligations kept me from visiting before he went to bed.

He told me, as best he could given his aphasia, that the caregivers had made him take his clothes off, and given him a shower, and one of the male caregivers a shave. "Then a woman came in. And she wasn't you."

"No, it wasn't me,"

"So I don't know who you are."


"You know who I am. I'm your daughter, Karen."

"Yes, I know who you are."

I tried to pass it off as him teasing me, but I really have no idea. Did he momentarily not recognize me, or did he merely get tangled in his thoughts and words, meaning to say that he didn't know who the female caregiver a few minutes earlier was? I don't know.

This entry is being posted especially late. Wanna know why? I spent a good chunk of the evening trying to remove adware from my computer, the kind that turns words into badly formatted links to advertising. None of the pages I looked at provided an answer that worked, deleting cache and cookies didn't help, and Norton found nothing wrong when I did a scan. I did a registry cleanup, restarted Chrome and gave up. 

But when I started writing this entry, my computer started acting up. Blogger kept telling me that the page wasn't saving or publishing (I wasn't trying to publish yet) and the Internet connection troubleshooter wouldn't launch, but kept flickering as an empty dialog box. I rebooted, and there it was, the very thing I was worried about: a "ransomware" screen, absurdly claiming that the FBI had locked my computer for the crime of looking at child pornography, and to pay $300 to get my computer running again. I first had this screen a week ago, and managed to remove it once (so it seemed) but it's a nasty, persistent Trojan. It takes over the whole startup, and it's gotten even more aggressive so that the clean up methods I looked up on my iPhone browser no longer work.  I can't reach Safe Mode, and F8 does nothing except show me a list of options that don't include F8 or Safe Mode. System Recovery failed to complete, and before it started refusing to go there at all I got to Safe mode briefly, only for it to shut itself down a few seconds later. There is absolutely nothing I can do at this point except take it to Staples, and hope my most recent backup isn't likewise infected.

It's been a bad day.


Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Travels With Frank #4: Rainy Days and Tuesdays

Alamo Wash where it crosses Calle Betergeuse, 9/3/13

Today was a work day, a week, day, and a particularly busy one. On the rare occasions when I  take my Dad out on weekdays, it's almost always a Tuesday or a Thursday, because I get off work earlier on those days, and don't have to drive across town. Usually I don't take him out on a weeknight, though. I didn't do it today. I try to discourage him from even thinking he might go out on a weeknight, so that he's not disappointment. It's right on his whiteboard, standing note #3.

Dad's whiteboard was a really good idea that John had, based on Jan having used a cork bulletin board in Dad's rehab room in Wilmington. It was a little valentine I made, a picture of some of his old N-scale layout reassembled at the Wilmington Railroad Museum and, hanging off the bottom, a floral still life he painted. But the rest of the board is full on my all caps, handwritten notes. I apologize in advance for the all caps below:






TODAY IS _______DAY!





This set of messages has evolved over the past seven months, as I worked out and implemented a routine, and adjusted the wording to make the meaning as clear as possible and as easy to remember as possible.

It's a lot harder than you might think.

I used to try to list, day by day, what time I was likely to arrive, but he would obsess over the exact time. Once I came in and he did not want to look away from the clock on the cable box. He had apparently been watching it for an hour, noticing each change of minute. Goodness knows what he thought would happen if he stopped watching it!

The sentence about returning to the room was added after he took to hanging around the dining area after dinner, waiting for something else to happen. He had no idea what that something might be, but was disappointed that nothing happened, other than my eventual arrival. I've had to explain to him many times that he should not wait for me to arrive before eating dinner. (They close the kitchen at 6 PM). I'm almost never there at 5 PM, but because that's the only time given for weekdays, he half expects me at that time. The concept of "after" is only vaguely understood, if it's even remembered.

One Sunday night, just a few hours after I returned him to the Cascades, I got a call that he was agitated, trying to push his way out the locked door to walk to my house, despite having no idea how to get there by foot. That's when I added the part about not visiting after dinner.

And so on. It's a continual challenge.


Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Travels With Frank #3: An Origin Story, Part Two

It being Labor Day, I actually had the day off for a change - sort of. I didn't have to go to any of my three jobs,, but I did do some web work for St. Michael's, I helped a friend clean house in preparation for an inspection, and I took my Dad to Saguaro National Park again.

There was a lecture about mountain lions (a.k.a pumas, a.k.a. cougars, among other names) at the Red Hills Visitor Center at Saguaro National Park West. I didn't really expect Dad to enjoy it, but it was good an excuse as any to choose that particular drive for this afternoon, over Gates Pass, past the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and on into the western unit of the National Park, the other half of which lies on the absolute opposite side of the city of Tucson. The underground room where the lecture was held was a bit warm, we were late, only two other people were in attendance and Dad was bored. But I learned a lot. And he got the part that he likes, a fairly long and dramatic drive, with lots of signs to read.

What makes the drive dramatic, apart from the mountains and desert in general, is the drive over Gates Pass. I have yet to really capture in pictures how steep and narrow and twisted and scary it is, but here is today's attempt to do so:

 Going down!

 The white speck on the middle left of the photo is a car.

 There's a car speck in this shot also.

A long way down!

Anyway, so we did the drive, and learned how to scare away a mountain lion in the unlikely circumstance that it isn't already running away from you - at least, I did. When we got back up Gates Pass afterward we came across a young women posing against the dramatic scenery in a rather spectacular dress:

So that was today. But last night in my entry, I left off my "origin story" at the point when my stepsister Jan and I chose to move Dad from Wilmington, where he had been in the hospital and then in a rehab facility, to the memory care unit of Cascades of Tucson. By the time Dad was well enough to travel and the Cascades people were satisfied that we was well enough to live there, it was early February. Meanwhile, in December, the five of us - Jan, Amy, my brother Steve and me, plus John as a non-heir helping out - gathered at Dad and Ruth's now uninhabited home, divided up the possessions and met with the lawyer. The idea was to empty out the place and sell it, so that the money could be applied to Dad's care. But eight months later it still hasn't sold. There hasn't been so much as a nibble in months. But Jan and Amy packed up their mom's stuff amidst many tears, Steve chose things that either he could use or that meant something to him by way of family history, and I went for things from my childhood, or that I could use to furnish Dad's new home or remind him of his past. And we got Dad's 2005 Prius, just as John's car had become undriveable.

Jan told Dad he was going to Tucson and sort of told him that he was moving there, but he didn't really understand. Amy and his caregiver Bunny flew with him. Bunny would stay in town several days to help ease him into his new life. My stepsister Amy, a doctor, met with the nurses at the Cascades, looked things over and asked the right questions, and flew home to Detroit the next day.

By February 21st, Dad's 90th birthday, the novelty of Tucson had warn off and Dad expected at any given moment that I would drive him home. He had no idea that that was never going to happen, nor that it was more than a few minutes' drive away.When I told him, he was quite unhappy, saying that the place he was, or his situation, was "not much good at all."

But he got something like 40 cards for his 90th birthday, which I later had to hang on his walls with strings. He still hasn't let me take those down. And we took him out to an Italian restaurant that night, and he got his own salad from the salad bar.

The next day he was in the hospital, and nearly died. In all the moving about, with all the different doctors and nurses in all the different facilities, he had ended up with excessive heart medicine, resulting in dangerously low blood pressure.  I was by his side, watching the monitors giving off their alarming readings as he ranted semi-deliriously about an upcoming board meeting at the Wilmington Railroad Museum, where he had been the board president. The meeting was probably years ago.

Again we thought he would die. He didn't. Actually, since he left the hospital this time, he's shown no sign of further heart trouble. I'm sure the chronic underlying problems are still there, but I see no evidence of it, and I see him every day.

His cognitive function is another story.


Monday, September 02, 2013

Travels With Frank #2: An Origin Story

Those of you who were blogging at AOLJournals in the old days may remember a blogger named Mary, who used to write about her Italian-American father. He lived in some kind of assisted living facility, and she would spent significant time visiting him. She also got to know and spend time with other residents, who weren't so lucky as to have relatives who turned up frequently to see them. Mary's posts were loving and strong and honest, not hiding at all from the difficulties of the situation. I really admired her for that, and was glad I wasn't going through the same thing.

Now I am.
Dad gets a haircut, 8/10/2013. He's obsessed these days with being clean-shaven.

I don't promise I can write about all this as steadily or as wisely as Mary did. I'm not sure exactly what my situation and my dad's calls for, here and now, but I know I need to say more than I've been saying. Recently I asked whether I should be blogging about my dad's dementia, and I got two votes for, two against. The first two comments were the nays. The concern was that I would violate my dad's privacy and dignity, putting him on display like a cute cat video. I can see that as a potential problem, but I don't think what I plan to do here will rise (or sink) to that level. I may make a few YouTube videos at some point, but if I do it won't be to have my Dad perform for the camera.

I also have more than a few things to say about parts of my life that don't involve my Dad.

Building on last night's intro, I'd like to use this entry to explain further the dynamics of the situation, and to respond to Bea's and Wil's comments to the previous post.

First: here's a quick look at the family tree.

My parents, Frank E Funk and Ruth Anne Johnson Funk, were divorced in 1976. My mom moved to Florida and lived in the Space Coast area for something like 17 years before moving here to Tucson. She had mild dementia in later years, compounded by mental health issues. Her last days, in late 2002, were a bit of a horror show, and I'm convinced that her extreme vagueness at the end was more psychiatric than memory-related.

Dad married Ruth Christy (formerly Ruth Christy Sisley) in 1977, and they moved to North Carolina around the beginning of 1989. Ruth had two daughters from her previous marriage, Jan and Amy, both around my age. They're both terrific people, but we never spent significant time together. They were very close to their mom, of course, and grew to love my dad as well. Financially and geographically, they were able to visit Dad and Ruth much more often than I was. I was a bit jealous of that!

Ruth was always wonderful to me, and she and Dad had a terrific marriage. Being younger than my Dad, Ruth always assumed she would be around to care for him at the end of his life, and they made their financial arrangements accordingly. But she was diagnosed with cancer in the spring of 2012 and died very soon after. I was on the phone with her four days before my dad found her body in the kitchen, and tried unsuccessfully to wake her up. Nowadays he doesn't always remember that she died at all. He wonders why he's not home in Wilmington with her, and whether she knows where he is.

Dad, Steve and me, December 2012.

My own brother, Steve, lives in the Cleveland area. His health is poor and his finances aren't much better. My dad used to worry about Steve a lot, when he was still capable of worrying about such things. One good thing about this dementia is that it seems to have blunted his emotional response to painful situations. Dad doesn't seem to feel Ruth's death as keenly as he otherwise would, although I'm sure he misses her. I'm not sure how much he remembers Steve at all, let alone Steve's heart issues and financial problems. As Jan says, Dad has trouble remembering who someone is unless they are right in front of him.

In 2011 or so, Jan had moved to Wilmington, NC to spend more time with her mom. My Dad had a few strokes and fibrillation early that year, leading to significant memory loss after his being remarkably active and functional well into his old age. When Ruth died, Amy and I flew out to Wilmington and strategized before and after the funeral. The plan was to keep Dad in his home as long as he could be safe and comfortable there. Jan was next on the list as successor power of attorney, so she set about settling the estate, making sure bills were paid and hiring caregivers, led by a wonderful woman called Bunny. But by November Dad was in the hospital with heart problems, kidney problems and a UTI. If he survived, he needed to move into a facility that could do more for him than Bunny and Co. could. And Jan and her husband wanted to move back to Vermont. The logical thing was for Dad to come here. Jan and I researched assisted living facilities in Tucson with memory care, which could also keep an eye on him medically. We settled on Cascades of Tucson. I'll pick up the story from there tomorrow night.

Regarding questions about the Mâvarin books: yes, Wil and Bea, I do intend to publish them as e-books. I was well on my way through a final edit on Heirs of Mâvarin when I got sidetracked by other concerns, mostly Dad. Part of the purpose of this return to blogging is to get me back into the discipline of writing in general, so that I can get the books done as well. One thing I still need to complete the project is a good cover illustration. I approached a former next door neighbor from 40 years ago who has illustrated children's books, and asked whether she would be interested in a commission, but I haven't heard back. Maybe she doesn't want to tell me I can't afford her services, or assumes I'm not serious and prepared to pay for them. But looking at the e-books I download, I can see that a professional quality cover image is a must. Any leads, anyone?


Sunday, September 01, 2013

Travels With Frank #1 - Tombstone

Okay, this is where I try to start blogging on a regular basis again. For several years I've mostly just used Facebook and someimes Tumbler, and generally only blogged here for the Round Robin Photo Challenges. But I'm going through a time in my life that is both stressful and interesting. I need an outlet, and the discipline of writing on a regular basis again, and a place to keep a log of what's going on in my life that I can crib from if I ever write that threatened autobiography. In short, I need a blog. How fortunate that I already have one! (Actually, I have a number of them. But this is the one that still gets some use!)


My dad in February, before the beard came off.

If you follow me on Facebook, or even if you just read my Round Robin entries, you probably know that my Dad, Dr. Frank E. Funk, moved to Tucson in February 2013. It was not his idea, and he didn't quite realize he was coming to Tucson to stay. My stepmother, Dr. Ruth Christy Funk, had died on June 1st, 2012, and in the months that followed it became clear that his ability to live safely in his own Wilmington, NC condo was greatly diminished. Dad has dementia, and unskilled, round the clock care at home was getting to be both expensive and insufficient to his needs. So, after a stint in the hospital during which we thought we were going to lose him, we closed up his house and he came here.

By here, of course, I mean Tucson, not my house. He lives just a few miles away, in a memory care unit at Cascades of Tucson. The people there are friendly, caring and competent, and the location is extremely convenient for me, being close to both St. Michael's and my home. It means I can make up for all the years that I hardly ever saw him because we lived 1500 miles from each other. Now I see him daily, even if it's just for 15 minutes on my way home from work. And on Saturdays, we go out together for "lunch and adventures."

 Today, for example, I decided to drive him to Bisbee, Arizona, there to see the historic town and a giant open pit mine. But Tombstone was on the way, and we got there just as shots were ringing out from the gunfight reenactment, and the town was having a big Labor Day Weekend Rendezvous of Gunfighters. Needless to say, we never made it to Bisbee.

Now, the fact is, Dad didn't actually enjoy visiting Tombstone today. I asked him whether that was fun, and he simply said "No." It was too long a walk for him, and I don't think he really grasped the history of the place, much less cared about it. But he had ice cream at the oldest continuously-operated restaurant in Tombstone, and rode on a stagecoach for a narrated tour of the town, and got to do some people-watching.

The part he really likes is the long drives. He enjoys seeing the mountains, watching the clouds build up, keeping an eye on my driving and, mostly, reading the road signs, business sign and licence plates. The drive from Tucson down to Tombstone is a fairly spectacular one, with mountains and desert and several historic towns along the way. There was also a big, dramatic storm on the return drive that we watched but didn't need to drive through. So that part of the day was a success.