Saturday, April 24, 2010

Bring It On

You know those days when every turn seems to be a road block or another pot-hole? You go through your day finding yourself frustrated almost constantly. Every time something happens, you deal with it and sit back, take a deep breath and mutter to yourself, "hope that was it." Of course as soon as you do something else blows up. By the end of the day you're so warn out that nothing else could phase you. 2010 has turned into that day.

It's like the scene in Emperors New Groove -

Instead of sitting back and hoping that nothing else will happen I have decided Kuzco has it right. I'm all funned out but guess what, I bet another major challenge sitting down the line waiting to rear it's ugly head. A huge waterfall with rocks at the bottom, most likely. And that's why I say.

Bring it on.


Sunday, April 18, 2010

The One With the Plastic Forks

Since it's springtime in Oregon, I found myself wedging yet another box of allergy pills into the medicine cabinet this afternoon. Why am I suddenly outgrowing my medicine cabinet? Because it's full of expired OTC products, that's why! Oops. Please don't tell the dozens of Pharmacists with whom I work. Or the nearly 800 aspiring Pharmacists we are educating...they like to practice their "patient counseling" skills on me from time to time, and I can only imagine the lecture this irresponsible behavior would merit. I'm supposed to be the one pestering them about responsibility - not the other way around. Anyway, I dutifully purged the 2008 cough syrup and the "real" Sudafed I smuggled home from Chicago many moons ago. (Note to self: cross the border to a normal state before cold season sets in). In the process I came across a nearly-full bottle of now-expired Maalox which reminded me of a lovely tale I've been meaning to share for quite some time. It involves the Maalox, a tube of crescent rolls, a pregnant lady, and a plastic fork.

It was Friday, February 27, 2009 (right here I wish I could insert that harp-music that always plays when someone in a movie is flashing back to an old memory) and I was having a crazy-busy day at work. I was absolutely determined to be out the door on time that night so that I could head off to start birthday weekend festivities with two of my favorite gal-pals, Jessie & Beth. Not having packed a lunch, I dashed over to the cafeteria and grabbed a salad to go. A salad and a plastic fork. Dun dun DUN! Moments later I was back at my desk with about seven minutes to consume my salad, and was stabbing wildly at it with the fork. In my fervor, I broke off two of the little plastic tines. I glanced at the salad, and didn't immediately see the broken tines - sadly indistinguishable from the cafeteria's shredded iceberg lettuce. I thought to myself, "I should fish around and get those things out of there." Then, realizing that I now had only 5 minutes to finish eating lunch, I decided that I would certainly notice biting into a tine, and would just spit it out if I got one in my remaining few bites. Mmmm hmmmm. No flaws in that plan. Minutes later I'd scarfed up most of my salad (quite an achievement with a two-tined fork) and congratulated myself for not eating any part of my utensil! I tossed the rest of the salad in the trash and got back to work.

Later that afternoon I was on my way to Beth's house, eagerly anticipating a night of fun. I also seemed to have developed quite a tickle in my throat - it almost felt like the beginning of a sore throat. How could I possibly be getting sick? I'm ruthless with the anti-bacterial lotion and lysol wipes for a reason. If I could just clear my throat...cough, hack, sputter. Drink some water...cough, hack, sputter. Still really sore! And maybe a little obstructed. Swallow, cough, hack, sputter. And then, in a palm-smacking-the-forehead moment of realization, it dawns on me. Gulp. There is a fork tine lodged in my throat. Let's get the birthday party started!

Immediately upon my arrival at Beth's place the wine was poured, and I confessed my latest shenanigan to the girls. (For the record: we poured sparkling cider into a wineglass for the pregnant lady. We did that A LOT that year). I figured we could probably come up with some kind of solution. I regaled the girls with stories of our old dog, Sunny, who was notorious for eating all sorts of things that shouldn't be eaten (shoe laces, crayons, razor blades...), as well as the charming feed-her-a-lot-of-bread-and-then-monitor-the-backyard-till-you-find-the-item-again routine with which our family became all too familiar. As we drank our wine, my problem seemed funnier and funnier. Eventually, it was suggested that I should be stuffed full of bread crumbs like a Thanksgiving turkey and then set out on the lawn. What a touching testimonial to our friendship.

Seeing no sensible solutions showing up at the bottom of that bottle of pinot, I decided to give Jimbo a jangle. What the heck? Even if he doesn't have a remedy, all my "I got carried away and ate the whole dang place-setting" jokes would be new to him. Apparently I caught him at a bad time. He was out a some loud restaurant and didn't find my predicament all that funny. Thankfully he did have one half-way decent recommendation: call his parents, the retired nurse and paramedic. I don't remember which one of his parents I called first, or exactly how the conversation went. It was all a little jumbled since they were also out to dinner at a loud restaurant, and kept consulting each other while muffling the receiver. I do remember coming away with the distinct impression that we were going to really kick this slumber party into high gear by having my stomach pumped.

Eventually, it was decided that the tine probably wasn't actually lodged in my throat (since I'd been able to chew and swallow our pizza at dinner). Apparently it had scratched the inside of my throat on the way down - hence the soreness. I got instructions to drink a big dose of Maalox as the topical anesthetic would help my poor scratched throat. But then there was the matter of at least one - and quite possibly two - sharp pieces of plastic now navigating my nether regions. If I wanted to avoid having my stomach pumped, I'd have to do something to ensure that those little tines didn't prick, poke, or puncture anything precious! Solution? Feed-her-a-lot-of-bread-and-then-monitor-the-backyard-till-you-find-the-item-again. I am now officially sorry for making fun of the dog for all these years.

So, the three of us piled into the car (this is where the pregnant/sober lady really came through like a champ) and drove across the street to the Thriftway. You read that right: we drove across the street - our pregnant lady had hit her 8-month waddle. I opted for the mint-flavored Maalox (vs. cherry...cough, hack, sputter) and a tube of the Pillsbury Doughboy's finest crescent rolls.
Nothing says party like minty-fresh vacuum-packed dinner rolls! Thankfully there were *delish* birthday cupcakes to cap off the night.
I don't remember now how many crescent rolls I made myself eat, but I'm fairly certain I mustered the fortitude to polish off two of those cupcakes. Overindulgent? Maybe. But I had a mandate: feed-her-a-lot-of-bread-and-then-monitor-the-backyard-till-you-find-the-item-again. Believe it or not, it worked! The Maalox soothed my scratched up throat, and the baked goods did their trick too. That's all I'm going to say about that. This is a family show.

I never touched that big bottle of Maalox again, and it sure felt good to pour it out today.

This story requires not one, but two epilogues.

Epilogue One:
Remember my jangle to Jimbo? He was in a loud restaurant and tried to get me off the phone as quickly as possible. Remember my call to his parents a few minutes later? Loud restaurant, muffled discussion. They were together in the SAME loud restaurant - just miles from me and my Maalox. That boy is lucky I don't have an investigative bone in my body or I would have blown his big plan for a surprise proposal the next day!
What a special birthday treat! Almost made me forget all that bread.

Epilogue Two:
A couple weeks later I received a picture text from Beth. She'd snapped it at her desk that day at lunch.

No caption necessary.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Idiot's Guide to Losing a Parent

Disclaimer: This is serious. And descriptive. And a little sad. And kind of irreverent, too. But it's really important so I hope you'll read on. I just don't want to choke anybody up at the office.

I really appreciate all the kind and supportive comments about my dad's passing - even from some people we don't know! In the last two years I have learned a whole lot of things that I never thought I'd need to know, and I honestly wish somebody would have told me this stuff. This is important life and death stuff that my fussy little liberal arts college definitely didn't teach me. Where is The Idiot's Guide to Losing a Parent? I would be underlining and writing in the margins if I had such a book. I was ranting about that yesterday, and somebody suggested that I go ahead and write it. Not such a bad idea, actually, except that I kind of have a few things going on right now... and I'm not an author. So, in lieu of my first literary masterpiece, I give you my current soapbox: three things everyone should do NOW to alleviate a lot of major stress later.

Thing Number One: Somebody Needs Power of Attorney
For those of you who like to keep score, Dad did this one right. When he was diagnosed two years ago he immediately got the paperwork in order to give me Power of Attorney. That meant that I was able to act in his stead for nearly any purpose. I could call his doctors and discuss his condition and treatment. I could go to the bank and transact business on his account. In situations where you're normally told "we can't tell you that" I was told what I needed to know about my Dad, and I had the ability to do what needed to be done on his behalf.

You should talk to your parents about who has their Power of Attorney. Sure it might be awkward if you have siblings who squabble over that sort of thing, but I assure you that it is well worth the difficult discussion it may precipitate. Once somebody has been assigned Power of Attorney, that person needs a certified copy of the document. There were quite a few times where a wave of that paper got me the information I needed.

Thing Number Two: We All Need An Advance Directive
(AKA "Health Care Directive" or "Living Will")
An Advance Directive (I'm calling it AD from here on out cause I'm lazy) is official documentation of your end-of-life wishes. It indicates whether you want to be kept on life support, what kind of pain management you want, and how your dignity can be honored at the end of your life. This was another process we completed at the time of Dad's cancer diagnosis. I sat with him while he filled it out and we discussed it. He made sure that I understood his wishes and asked me to promise that they would be carried out. It was a hard talk. It freaked me out. It was also the single greatest gift he could have given me at the end of his life.

We put Dad's AD on file in the "Choices Bank" at his hospital. They gave him a wallet-card with a unique number which could be used by any health-care provider to access his document - even at another hospital or elsewhere in the country. Ironically, when Dad was brought to the emergency room in that very hospital in February - unconscious and near death - they didn't know he had an AD. I had to tell them! Imagine what would have happened if I hadn't known?! This is why you need to have the conversation now.

Dad's wishes were pretty clear: no machines, no life support, no vegetative state, and plenty of morphine thank you very much. When I arrived at the hospital nearly 24 hours after he'd been admitted, he was hooked up to everything imaginable and he was pissed. He couldn't talk (because of the breathing tube that shouldn't have been in his throat) and he was not lucid at every moment, but it was obvious. The look in his eyes when he met my gaze clearly told me "you and I had a deal and this was not it." The doctor visited me and offered me two options: 1) allow them to perform a risky brain surgery with only moderate hope of any improvement, or 2) allow him to continue in his current state. I had to decide whether Dad should live or die. That is a horrible rotten no-good awful thing to ask a person to decide. I cannot imagine how I could have handled that situation if I hadn't known exactly what Dad wanted. What if I hadn't had Power of Attorney? I wonder how much they could have told me, and how carefully they would have honored my requests. What if there was no AD? How would I have known what to do? And how would I have lived with the decision for the rest of my life? Now you see why that conversation we'd had two years prior - and the official documentation to back it up - was so precious and important. I told them to take away all the machines and give him some peace. The look in his eyes as he slipped away was one of total relief. And I know that I did the right thing.

We all need AD's and we need to discuss them with our loved ones. You can find the form for your state here.

Thing Number Three: Have a Will

Sadly, this is where Dad did not do such a great job and we learned this one the extra-hard way. The first questions we had to answer after Dad passed were "did he have a will?" and "do you know where it is?" Oh massive planning fail. I had NO idea whether Dad had a will. But if there was one, we had to find it because nothing could happen until we answered those two questions.

I was lucky that Dad had down-sized to a fifth-wheel. At least we had one small area (with a zillion nooks and crannies we soon discovered) to be searched. We turned the place upside down. We looked EVERYWHERE. We went so far as to shake out books hoping important documents would fall from the pages. We looked under the seat of his pickup truck. Jim searched every document on his computer and every sent email for any reference to a will. When we couldn't find it we felt like we'd done our best and threw in the towel. It was at that point that someone told us that it might be in a safe-deposit box at a bank, or maybe a copy would be on file with the attorney who originally drew it up. Those were good helpful suggestions, but they made me cry. Call every attorney in town? What about the ones who were retired or had moved away? And a safe-deposit box? At what bank? And with what non-existent key should we open it? That just wasn't going to happen. We had to proceed without a will. And that's when I learned a new dirty word: probate.

I'm sure the attorneys in the crowd (hi friends!) will be correcting me all over the place, but that's why this is the Idiot's Guide, and not the Smartypants Attorney's Guide. (Aside: it has been super handy to have a Smartypants Attorney. If I was going to go so far as adding a Thing Number Four, that might be it).

So...probate. LAME. Probate is a big ole complicated process whereby I have to prove that I am the sole heir, and then get a court order to back me up. On more than one occasion I was reminded that this is the time when my heretofore unknown half-siblings just might come out of the woodwork. Wha? Once we established the "lack of heretofore unknown kin" the state of Montana (where the buffalo roam...) gave me a new title: "Personal Representative of the Estate of Dad." And like any good promotion, that title came with a heap of responsibility and no additional pay. Rather than reading the will and divvying up the fishing gear to the appointed recipients, I became responsible for every blessed thing Dad owned. It's not stuff, it's "assets." And since when is a travel trailer full of fishing gear "assets" an estate? Only in Montana.

I suppose I should get back on task. Being in probate means that we had to account for all of Dad's assets (right down to the silverware we donated to Goodwill and the dirty socks we threw out). Then we have to sell off all the assets, put the money back into the estate, and use it to pay off all of his bills. We have to do his taxes! Taxes for someone who is no longer with us? Wait - I can actually believe that. We have to account for the postage it takes to forward his mail to the SmartyPants Attorney. I now have an estate bank account, an estate Tax ID number, and a heap of headaches that could have been avoided if we'd had a will. PS - if anyone's interested in purchasing the actual 29-foot estate-on-wheels I have that too. The real kicker? Probate has to last at least six months. Apparently they commonly last two years. Two years of this bologna? Lawsie mercy.

So, the point of Thing Number Three is that we should all get wills drawn up. Jim and I will do ours when we get married. We aren't exactly dripping in assets but having even a simple will frees our loved ones from the big bad probate. Hear me now: nobody that I love will have to catalog my dirty socks.

Before I step off my soapbox, I want to emphasize that timing is really important. Things One through Three should be done now, while everyone is healthy and of sound mind. We tried to talk Dad into visiting the doctor about eight weeks before he died and he stubbornly refused because he wasn't thinking well. I was so thankful that I wasn't trying to get him to sign Power of Attorney or complete an Advance Directive in that state of mind. It would have been a nightmare and it probably wouldn't have gotten done.

And there it is: The Idiot's Guide to Losing a Parent. AKA: my usual irreverent blather, but on an important topic for once!

PS - Hey Mom, can we talk about Things One through Three sometime? And, if you already have a will, please give the fishing gear to Ben. I'm good.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Final Project

While you are listening to this teaser, let me note that you can come to Northfield for a Free Concert (service), May 9th, 2010 at 8:15pm and join us in Boe Chapel to hear this group sing. What a great gift for your Mother (or the Mother of your children). Did I mention it was free?

Boe Chapel is quite big so spread the word, get your friends to come and share this video with everybody you know. For you music buffs, it's going to be Howells, Poulenc, Rachmaninoff, Pfeifer, Bobby McFerrin, Dawson, Palestrina and some beautiful service music.

Blessings on this beautiful Sunday!


"My Soul Doth Magnify"
Boe Chapel- St. Olaf College
Northfield, MN
May 9th, 2010 at 8:15pm

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

April 6th

I had a realization today, it's April 6th. Besides some great birthdays around this time of year I also realized a few other things.
  1. In a month I will be putting together my final project.
  2. In two months, I will be back in Oregon.
  3. In hopefully three months, I will not only be reunited with my beautiful Fiancée but we will probably be with our dog Sugar (see above).
  4. In FOUR MONTHS I will be at a rehearsal dinner getting ready to marry said Fiancée.
It's the final stretch, it's the end of the road, the last great hurdle, the light at the end of the tunnel... Two years of studying, singing, working, praying, worshiping, shoveling snow, avoiding tornados, losing people, losing cars, driving cross country, flying to oregon, flying to minnesota, blogging, more studying, long phone conversations, video chatting, text messages, email and IM. It's been a whirlwind but through it all, I've had her. The ChoirPres, the BestFriend. The Soulmate. The Love of my Life.

And now the best part, actually knowing that she will be stuck with me, in the same house, for the rest of her life. Not just in her earbuds or on the IM. I get to be there (with Sugar of course) when she gets home, when she wakes up. I get to make her breakfast and coffee, take out the trash. She gets to do my laundry. Oh Laundry Fairy, I can't wait to have you back in my life. I get to fix her car, keep the house vacuumed (with the Dyson that some wonderful person just might buy us from our registry...hopefully :). I will balance OUR checkbook, take the dog for a daily run, randomly buy her flowers for no apparent reason. She will do my laundry.

Oh 54 days, you will come just fast enough. I can't believe we made it this far. Thanks for getting me through it babe. I owe ya.

Here's to the home stretch.