Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What is $200 Really Worth?

They sold a painting at Sotheby’s today. One of Andy Warhol’s earliest, actually a silk screen, 200 One Dollar Bills, sold for $43.8 million. Looking back, I was just reminiscing about how much $200 could buy when I was a girl and what it’s worth now.

For starters, my parent’s mortgage on their house in 1953 was $11,000 dollars. This is the house that I and my three brothers and one sister grew up in. A three bedroom, one and half bath with formal dining room and fenced back yard, on a large lot on a monopoly board, all-the-same, suburban neighborhood in the East Bay of SF. With an added full bath and family room, the same home that my parent’s still live in, worth $650,000 two years ago, now about half that. Today, there is probably somewhere in the US where $200 would pay the rent, but not anywhere that I would want to live.

A family of four would eat rather well on a lot less than $200 a month back then. The drive-in restaurant that we frequented and can still remember had hamburgers for 19 cents apiece. Today the whole wad could be blown on a meal in a nice restaurant for my childhood family of seven, not including alcohol.

My mom sewed all of our clothes, or we gratefully wore hand-me-downs from the neighbors with smaller fabrics. Going shopping before school, meant new underwear, socks and a pair of brown and white oxfords. I doubt that my mom spent more than $200 on clothes for all five of us. Now, $200 might buy one outfit, including shoes, or maybe only the shoes alone.

The point being not only have prices changed but the perception of money itself. There is an entitlement attitude today, that such expenses are necessities. Adults teach children that they must have the latest and the greatest at any cost. It is an expendable attitude towards all goods and merchandise. Few things are used up, made do, or done without. The current economic crisis is not making the impact that it should. There are still people with money spending and people without trying to catch-up with them. The consumers of our country need to change their attitude and start treating $200 like its worth the Andy Warhol print.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Serving with Courage and Love

On Father’s Day I wrote about my dad who suffers from Alzheimer’s. November is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. For that recognition, I am writing about his caregiver, my mother. Given all the other service oriented activities she has been part of: PTA, scouts, Little League, and church, this would not be out of the ordinary. But my father is the fourth family member with Alzheimer’s that she has given, or directly supervised their in-home care.
Her first experience with the disease came with my father’s parents. I cannot remember when they were stricken, or what their ages were. I remember their 50th wedding anniversary; my grandmother was 58, and my grandfather 12 –15 years older. They both seemed fine at the event. But shortly after that my mother began to make more and more visits to their home. They lived about 40 miles away and my mother made several trips a month to take them to the doctor, for haircuts, or to make sure they had food in their cupboard and refrigerator. My father’s sister lived a few blocks away from them, but because she was a single mother and worked full time, she had little time left to spare.
My mother was truly the sandwich generation, as I had three younger brother’s still living at home. I know that home and child care were her career, if not verbally chosen, by unspoken agreement, between my father, his sister and herself. It was a given, because she didn’t “work”, that these responsibilities would be hers. Even though the current social climate touted women’s rights, liberation and the importance of career, my mother’s dreams of being a writer were squeezed between appointments and errands and all the other aspects of her busy life and giving nature. She had no time to think about whether or not she was liberated.
With the death of my paternal grandparents, the needs of her own parents, crept in and once again began to take over her life. When her own mother began to develop the same types of symptoms that her in-laws had shown, she moved them from their farm in the country, which was two hours away, to their own new home about a mile from her own. Her older sisters were two states away, and the burden of care for her mother fell on her shoulders. Once again her time was spent in the busyness, stress and exhaustion of caring for an Alzheimer’s patient. As her mother’s condition worsened, they tried a care facility. Its effects were devastating not only to her mother, but also to her father who could not handle the toll the confusion it brought on his wife. Luckily my mother found a dear friend who took over much of the burden of caring for my mother’s parents the last few years of their lives. Despite the help, my mother was very much involved in their care. She was continually at their home doing what she could and again, the sole driver for appointments and outings.
After a few years respite, the ugly signs of Alzheimer’s appeared in our family, this time afflicting my father. After her experience with her mother and in-laws, one might think she would be an expert, but not so. Seeing your parents change into people you no longer know, cannot be the same as having your beloved spouse of almost 60 years, not only not recognize you, but demand that you leave your own home.
My mother has risen to this challenge with fortitude, determination and a sense of humor. She has become an expert on the holistic treatment of this disease, and in a sense, she has won. Whether it is the day-to-day battle or the full war, only time will tell. My father continues to live at home. Each day he takes a handful of pills and vitamins that have allowed him to retain enough of his personality to care for his physical needs and for the most part function as a small child in their home. The war will be over when my father is taken home. Hopefully that will happen sometime in his sleep and then my mother will be victorious, as she has finished this last act of marital service and love. I cannot imagine the emotional pain this has wrought on her, and the torture she has felt as she has lost her soul mate, bit by bit. Her perseverance and optimism are amazing. Her example reminds me that we are never given more than we can handle. And through this all, she has developed her talents and her career. The disease and her life have given her a story that she shares in a blog, Eventually there will be a book – an example of courage and service for other caregivers and her legacy of service and love to her family.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Inconvenience Can Be a Price of Good Citizenship

I almost decided to skip voting this time around. It was only a city council vote. The candidate for my ward was the incumbent and fortunately he had pulled through a few months ago on an issue that I was feeling pretty passionate about. I wanted him to win and felt pretty certain that he would. The other two candidates were for at large seats; one had no opposition because his opponent had been disqualified, the other had almost won the last mayoral election, so I was pretty confident she would be elected too.

Earlier in the day my daughter had called saying that they needed a copy of my driver’s license and social security card for a grant she was applying for. I pulled them out of my wallet and stuck them in the fax machine. When I got to the polling place at 7:00 pm, I was annoyed when I found they weren’t where they should be. I used to complain in California when I was voting that anybody could pretend to be anybody else, because they never asked for an ID of any kind ever, just a signature and your address. I don’t know if that has changed or not, but in Utah they want a photo ID with your address on it.

So back home I went to get the driver’s license, making two trips to the polling place for, as far as my vote went, a pretty unimportant election. The point is that it was an election, a chance, especially at the local level, to make my voice heard. Voting is a privilege, but it is also an obligation. No election is ever trivial enough to skip, no matter how busy or disorganized I am, or how inconvenient it may be. My niece, who may never have the intelligence to make a wise vote, is excited about turning 18 and voting. I need to show the enthusiasm for voting that she has, and never take it for granted. That which we don’t use, we may lose. We need to take advantage of every chance we have to participate in the democratic process and exercise our rights as free citizens. Too many other people made the ultimate sacrifice so that we have the freedom and continue to have the freedom to vote. The times we live in are precarious and we need to take our citizenship seriously. I hope you voted too.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Premonition of Fall

A golden aura permeates the air. Everything seems to be bathed in liquid sunshine. A last chance of warmth as Indian summer peaks out, playing hide and seek. Temperatures in the 70’s belie the fact that in a month or more the harshness of winter will prevail, and things now green and living will become black and shriveled.

Fall – the tumbling of leaves, of temperatures, of summer joys and giddiness, a sobering time to prepare for the deadness and silence of winter. Being hushed by thick fluffy whirling masses of snow, silencing life and the living. Waiting for that time, we revel in sky that is intensely blue, of leaf in brilliant hues of red, orange and yellow. In foreshadow of a distant spring, autumn rains turn baby grass a brilliant green. Knowing that it lies there waiting under heavy snow gives some comfort that the earth will once again be warm again and full of new life.

The first snowfall came this morning. You could feel the sense of change yesterday as people scurried around, working on last minute preparations before the cold weather set in. My sister-in-law, niece and I went and picked all the grapes we could find, so they wouldn’t freeze and be ruined for juice. We picked up walnuts, a tree full of beautiful pears, and the last of the apples to harvest before the freeze. Like the summer drop in temperature, this will probably be equally shocking, Indian summer to the biting chill of winter in one day.

Living in the mountains gives me a wake-up call to the severity of nature and the callous indifference it shows to living things. Nature doesn’t care if you hike up into the mountains and get lost, spending the night in shirt sleeves and shorts while the temperature drops 40 degrees. It has no thought to the tender green tomatoes left to ripen on the vine. If they are left out, the next day they are frozen solid, while the plant shrivels to black.

Life, like nature, cares not whether we are prepared or whether we did something on purpose or accidentally. Like preparing for winter, protecting the good things that we have accomplished is as important to our life survival, as bringing in the unripe tomatoes from the garden and emptying and turning off the outdoor water spigot. Preparing and protecting our loved ones from a cruel and indifferent world is as necessary as making sure the heater is on in an empty house and protecting pipes from the freezing temperatures.

Times are changing as surely as the leaves change color and the first snow brushes the tops of the mountains. Preparing for the future, paying off debt, embracing a simpler, more frugal life style, storing food and water are as necessary as those steps taken to prepare for the winter. When ye are prepared, ye shall not fear. Advice for the times and the seasons.>