The Death of My Parents – And I Channel Them

I moved from California to southeastern Pennsylvania (US) in 2009, to be closer to my very old parents. Through a set of circumstances – I did not get the job I wanted, which was several hours away, then I worked from home, then I took a job in the area – I lived with them until their deaths in 2013. I lived in their home and became what I call an accidental caregiver. I did not plan to be their in-home caregiver; it happened.

My mother died of dementia on February 1, 2013. She was 92, in their home until the last week of her life. She had an excellent quality of life, until almost the end.  We brought in hospice care and other caregivers, though not full time until the end.  Caregiving became very difficult. This explains my lack of blog posts in 2012 and 2013. Basic living was hard enough. There was no time for anything else.

My father died of congestive heart failure on April 24, 2013. He was 91, in their home until the last three and a half weeks of his life. What was good for his heart was bad for his kidneys. His death was hard in a different way. My father did not have dementia; he was himself, though older and slower. We had a very good two months together.

Dementia is different. I do not believe that a person with dementia is gone, as in “she is not my mother anymore” – the person is there, of course. But you can see their capabilities slipping away. They become different from what they were before. You can see, clearly, that there is no turning back. Death is inevitable. It was not like that with my father.

I go on. I am living in the house, which is now mine and my sister’s. I do not plan to erase memories of them, but I am slowly making the house more my own.

Sometimes I wonder if I am channeling my parents. I will start with my father.

MY FATHER

My father was a retired industrial engineer. Retirement in his 60s freed him to do what he wanted. He and my mother traveled more, often but not always with their daughters. I planned most of the trips. My father also enjoyed his home, very much. He liked to make things. He made most of the furniture in their home..

My father made cards for his wife and his daughters, using the colored pencils my sister gave him. The cards were sweet, adorable, funny. Sometimes you can see his light pencil markings of the design; he marked out the design before he colored it in. My father was a planner.

This is my favorite card.  I do not know the year, before I move here in 2009, some years. before. . It shows the best of my parents.

My father made this card for my sister and me. I am not sure of the year.

My father made this card for my sister and me. I am not sure of the year.

After there were no more large pieces of furniture left in the house to make, my father wanted to make things that were practical, but more “artistic”, and on a smaller scale. He taught himself to make coffee tables and end tables, inlaid with mosaics he made from kitchen and bathroom tiles, ceramic, solid colors, no designs on the tiles. He was careful with their money, so he and my mother went to stores that sold tiles and asked the store clerks if he could buy the remains of odd lots and discontinued tiles. I think he told them what he planned to do – he might have shown them. Often they gave him the tiles for free. It’s hard to resist two cute little old people, telling you what they planned to create with kitchen and bathroom tiles!

Here are two end tables from the outdoor screened in porch. Yes, I know, I need to put something on the wood. There is some leakage from the roof of the outdoor patio.

Aren’t they lovely?

Top of an end table my father made.  He made the mosaic using ceramic tiles he cut up. Photo taken 2014.

Top of an end table my father made. He made the mosaic using ceramic tiles he cut up. Photo taken 2014.

Another mosaic table my father made.  Photo taken 2014

Another mosaic table my father made. Photo taken 2014

How do I channel my father? I like to make things, and I like to work in a series, like my dad. My father loved to work in series. And I make cards too. But I don’t plan as much when I make things. I use materials that respond better to an iterative process.

I am not an engineer, but I am a computer person (business IT), and I love tech. So I took some of his methodological approach and organization to other facets of my life. And I’ve color coded and labeled the cables and power chords of all the devices connected to my desktop, at both the device and the computer end. That’s organization!

MY MOTHER

I think my mother had a naturally better design sense than my father. It came to her easily. She had a knack for putting things together. She had a good sense of style,  a classic, youthful look. She loved pants and stopped wearing dresses entirely, when women could. She had a fine design sense, but she didn’t like to make things that involved much in the way of organization or planning.

My mother loved growing things, most of all. “I stick it in the ground and it grows”, she said. She could get roots out of any cutting. Along with outdoor plants, her plants and flowers on the closed in porch (the solarium, we sometimes called it, the sun room) were amazing. And the plants and the flower boxes on the screened in patio were also very pretty. This was a way for her to exercise her design sense.

I don’t like outdoor, in the ground, gardening all that much, though I’ve done it. I like container gardening. I’ve maintained the indoor plants and added to them.

I channel my mother when my sister comes over to visit. I show my sister all the new blooming things, exactly like my mother.did.. I say “look at this, it is blooming, this started to bloom, I rooted these collies (coleus plants) and look how well they are doing.” Just like my mother.

From the sun room.

View from the sun room, 2014. The gerbera daily is blooming.

View from the sun room, 2014. The gerbera daily is blooming.

Snow outside, blooming plants inside. View from the sun room, 2014.

Snow outside, blooming plants inside. View from the sun room, 2014.

My mother rooted a cutting from a bouquet of flowers from Hawaii that my sister sent her. The little "cutting" is now over three feet tall and shows no signs of stopping.  View from the sun room, 2014.

My mother rooted a cutting from a bouquet of flowers from Hawaii that my sister sent her. The little “cutting” is now over three feet tall and shows no signs of stopping. View from the sun room, 2014.

And so I go on.

Summer swimming, changes, goodbye to my California connection

Summer swimming at my local community pool in Pennsylvania was the best ever.

Before the pool opened. June 2012

The office where I bought my season pass. June 2012

Rope dividing the sections. August 2012

Diving area is beyond the rope. August 2012

Swimming In the lap lane, looking at the diving area. August 2012

You can barely see the seam at the bottom of the pool (diagonal line) that I use to swim in a straight line. August 2012

Goodbye to outdoor swimming for this year. August 2012

This leads me to changes.  Currently I work at home, doing something a bit different from what I usually do for a living.  I worked for over a year for a company based in California.  Most people who work there work remotely – there are people I work with all over the US and a few other places.  And  I love telecommuting,

That changes in the middle of September.  I am taking a job with a local organization.  I have to go there every work day, though it is the easiest commute ever – two stoplights at the edge of my small town, get on the good freeway, the modern one, not the “good luck merging in traffic” one, two protected left turns right after the exit, and I’m there.  It’s not a great time for me to get a job outside my home, but the job is a good one, I like the organization, and I will be doing work I value.  The job was too good to pass up.

But – what this means is that after three years, my last California connection is gone. I can’t exactly pretend I’m just passing through, though I won’t retire here.  I live here, in the house I grew up in, and I’ll go to work, every work day, to a job in this area.

I’m reminded of those movies where a person who has lived away returns home and discovers something.  There’s usually a lesson, some connection, some reestablishment of roots, some closure, sometimes an appreciation of the “simpler” life.  I don’t feel any of those things. My life is not a heartfelt movie.

And wait, my recruiter, who got me the job here, he lived in California for years, and liked it.  There’s always a connection.

The Shore – Ocean City in between

Unlike California, New Jersey beaches, or “the shore” as it’s called, have a  season.  If you go to a beach town in the off season, the shops next to the ocean, the ones on the boardwalk if your beach town has one, will usually be closed.   In the “season”, July and August mostly, also June, the weather is good, the ocean breezes provide some coolness, everything is open but it is very crowded.

I loved going to the ocean, as I called it in California, in fall, winter and spring.  It was beautiful.  The seasonal rains didn’t happen every day, and they turned the dry landscape green. The weather was mild.  The end of February and March were wonderful times to go.  I didn’t go much in the summer – I spent the summer swimming in my pool.

New Jersey is different.  Winter means snow, cold, ice, and bad weather for travel.  And many hotels are seasonal, open from the end of April to the first week in October.  So “shoulder season” is the time to go.

My sister and I stayed in Ocean City, New Jersey, in June and September.  June was a little crowded, but not too much, and everything was open.  September was not crowded at all.  Some places along the ocean (the boardwalk) were closed in September, though they were probably still open on the weekends.  Both times we went were magical.  I had a wonderful time.

The drive in over the Route 52 Causeway Bridge into Ocean City

Going over the Route 52 causeway to Ocean City, New Jersey, June 2011

Continuing over the causeway into Ocean City, June 2011

This was the place where my sister got our wonderful beach chairs.  The chairs she got have a canopy you can attach to the back of the chair — you can flip it back when you don’t need it.   You don’t have to mess with a sun umbrella.

The best place to buy beach chairs! Ocean City, New Jersey, June 2011

We stayed at the Ocean 7 Hotel.  Wonderful, 60′s pop retro charm, with contemporary comfort.  Our room had a little kitchen.

http://ocean7hotel.com/

Ocean 7 Hotel. The wave motif. June 2011


Ocean 7 Hotel. Exterior Mural. June 2011

Ocean 7 Hotel. Walkway to our room. June 2011

We were very close to the beach.

Ocean City, View from the front of our hotel room. June 2011

Ocean City (New Jersey) dates from the 1880s.  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ocean_City,_New_Jersey) It has a famous boardwalk, “a wooden walkway for pedestrians, often found along beaches” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boardwalk).

Ocean City is what is called a “family oriented” place.  Along the boardwalk there are rides for children, a ferris wheel, miniature golf, and shops with beachy type junk food – french fries, funnel cakes, frozen custard.  You can also eat pretty well.  It’s a “dry town”; the place does not sell alcohol, though you can certainly drink in your room.  I have mixed feelings about this.  I like to have a glass of wine with dinner, but it is wonderful to not run into drunks on the boardwalk or the beach.  There’s a lot of drinking in New Jersey beach towns.   Ocean City has shops, plenty of them, and if you look carefully, you can find good things to buy, particularly during the September sales.  The place is full of retro charm.

Ocean City boardwalk at night. I have no idea what venue this is. June 2011

Ocean City boardwalk at night. June 2011

Ocean City boardway in September. Some places are closed. September 2011

Ocean City. New Jersey. Boardwalk in September. Lovely overcast day. September 2011

In September we had pizza at Mack and Manco Pizza – wonderful thin crust pizza.  The place felt regional, local, in a good way, something you don’t always experience in a beach town.   And they don’t close in the off season – they are always open.

Mack & Manco Pizza. Spectacular pizza. September 2011

Wonderful Ocean City mural

Mural, Ocean City, New Jersey. September 2011

And the ocean, beautiful, timeless

Atlantic Ocean. Beach at Ocean City, New Jersey, June 2011

Atlantic Ocean. June 2011

Ocean City beach with local vegetation. September 2011

View from the Ocean City Music Pier. September 2011

The Music Pier and the Atlantic Ocean. September 2011

We go home.

Leaving Ocean City, going back over the causeway. September 2011.

Going home. Goodbye Ocean City. September 2011


Philadelphia, This Year

As big cities go, Philadelphia is quite nice, even nicer now that I go in on the train via the adorable Colmar station.  This is where I’ve been, this year.

Reading Terminal Market – http://www.readingterminalmarket.org

This is a farmer’s market in a permanent indoor space, in a lovely historic building next to the convention center.  The food is good.   The shops are good.  There is a local winery store, Blue Mountain Vineyards and Cellars, a local winery with excellent wines,   http://bluemountainwine.com/.  I almost wept when I stopped there.  Given Pennsylvania’s ridiculous liquor control laws (don’t get me started) and the local culture, I’ve mostly given up on the wine thing here.  Blue Mountain makes great wines, though it’s not easy to buy their wines, given that it’s a local winery and Pennsylvania’s liquor laws and the local liquor stores are so terrible.  I had the Chambourcin which was excellent, also interesting because I was not familiar with the grape.

Reading Terminal Market, fish sign, April 2011

Reading Terminal Market, Blue Mountain Vineyards and Cellars sign, April 2011

Philadelphia International Flower Show -http://theflowershow.com/home/index.html

“Springtime in Paris” was the theme for 2011.  The flower show is huge; it takes over the Philadelphia Convention Center.  The show consisted of a number of gardens with a Paris theme and a market where you could buy things.  I had a good time, though I learned why it is never a good idea to go on the weekend.  It was very crowded

Through Rose Colored Glasses, Philadelphia International Flower Show, March 2011

A Bed of Roses, Philadelphia International Flower Show, March 2011

Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts Street Fair – http://pifa.org/streetfair

Another Paris and French themed event.  It was not crowded in the morning, but more crowded as the day went on.  The food was good, the performers were good, the sights were good, some interesting arty things.

Butterfly Puppet, Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts Street Fair, April 2011

Ferris Wheel, Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts Street Fair, April 2011

La Ville Radieuse (The Radiant City), a Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts 2011 Collaboration

On the day I went to the street fair, I went inside the Kimmel Center, a performing arts space, a spectacular building with a hundred fifty foot barrel-vaulted glass roof (http://kimmelcenter.org/facilities/tour/).  There was a site installation, La Ville Radieuse, by Mimi Lien, an artist and set  designer.  http://pifa.org/journey/lavilleradieuse/2

The interior of the Kimmel Center was magical.  There was a replica of the Eiffel tower, all in lights.  Above me, moving on wires was a plane, trains, and a dirigible.  My photographs do not do it justice.

La Ville Radieuse, Kimmel Center, April 2011

La Ville Radieuse, Kimmel Center, April 2011

Art

This mini sculpture park is at the Marriott hotel, next to the Reading Terminal Market.  I had to do some research to figure out who made it. I like the work, and it was a great place to eat lunch when the Reading Terminal Market was very crowded, on the day I went to the flower show.

World Park, Cast concrete, fiberglass, stone and glass mosaic, landscape,15′ x 88′ x 96′, Philadelphia, PA. Commissioned by Marriott Hotel, 1995, Ned Smyth.

http://www.philart.net/artist.php?id=223   http://www.nedsmyth.com/information/resume

World Park, 1995, photograph taken March 2011

World Park, 1995, photograph taken March 2011

World Park, 1995, photograph taken March 2011

The Fabric Workshop and Museum – http://www.fabricworkshopandmuseum.org/

Contrary to the name, this is not a fabric workshop and museum; it is a contemporary arts gallery and museum, focusing on different types of materials.  I love it.  You can’t take photos inside, so I have no photos of their exhibits.   You can’t even walk around the exhibits yourself.  After you pay your admission fee, a nice person escorts you around the current exhibit, and you can stay as long as you like.  I think this is because the work is not protected and, while not fragile as in “you touch it, it breaks”, it would be easy to disturb the work.  I love the exhibits and hope to get there more often.

The Fabric Workshop and Museum, April 2011

Going to Philadelphia – The Colmar Station

Over the spring and early summer I went to Philadelphia for events – the Philadelphia flower show, a street fair, a dinner with women in technology.  Now, when I lived in California, I drove  to San Francisco many times.  I’ve driven all over the California coast.  I’ve driven to Seattle.  I drove 3000 miles across the US.  But, driving to Philadelphia does not appeal to me.  I will drive in Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey, because I have to, but I don’t like it very much.  In the US I like to drive in coastal California, the Pacific northwest, the southwest, Austin Texas, and parts of Hawaii.  Maybe I’ll make an exception for coastal Maine and the highway to the Florida Keys – liked driving those roads.

That leaves train travel.  Train travel in the US is painfully slow.  Regional train travel is even slower.  But taking the train is fun.  It’s extra fun if you can start at one of the platonic ideals of train station cuteness, the Colmar station. Sadly, you cannot walk to this train station, unless you lived next door, perhaps, but there are still many benefits to traveling via this station.

Parking

Lots of parking and the parking lot doesn’t fill up.  Getting there is easy for me, if a bit long, a straightforward route, no tricky intersections, fairly good traffic.

The Colmar Train Station. April 2011.

Parking and the Wawa gas station. April 2011.

An adorable little train station.

Per Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colmar_(SEPTA_station)) the Colmar station was built in 1856.  I do not know if this is the original building.  Glass blocks such as these were originally developed in the 1900s.  Perhaps this station dates from the early 1900s.  It’s a tiny station and there is no restroom, but there is a restroom at the Wawa gas station across from the station, as well as food.  The Wawa gas station is open all the time. There’s a heater in the tiny train station building, for the winter, though I don’t know how much heat it provides.

Side view, exterior, Colmar train station. April 2011.

Interior, Colmar train station. Wonderful glass blocks. April 2011.

Colmar train station. The heater. April 2011.

Waiting for the train.

I feel like I’m in a movie, setting off from the country to the big city.  I look one way and the other, to see if a train is coming.

The train station and the train tracks. May 2011.

Looking the other way at the train tracks. April 2011.

The buildings across from the train tracks. Pretty. April 2011.

A train is coming. May 2011.

The train is not fancy, but it is comfortable.  Cell phone service is good, so I can use my Android smartphone.

On the train. April 2011.

On the train with my Motorola Droid Android phone. April 2011.

Looking out the window

I used to take the SEPTA Norristown line into Philadelphia, which gave me a lovely view of the Schuylkill River.  There is no river on this route, but the landscape is pretty.

Watching the view on the way to Philadelphia. April 2011.

More views from the train. April 2011.

If I worked in downtown Philadelphia, Ambler would be a good place for me to live.

Ambler, view from the train. April 2011.

Farewell to the Colmar station.

Goodbye Colmar Station. April 2011.

They sold my building

For fifteen years I lived in paradise.  When I left, the place existed, frozen in time.  Sometimes I’d think – I’ll move back to my paradise, if I ever move back to California.

It’s not to be.  The owner’s children sold the building and the building is getting all fixed up.  It’s not the same.

I lived in a neighborhood called midtown, in Palo Alto, California, a smallish city on the peninsula south of San Francisco – a city located in what is called Silicon Valley.  Midtown is mostly residential, but my street was zoned for mixed use. There were shops, apartment buildings and detached single family homes.  There was a gas station up the street, but it closed.

Palo Alto is a pricey city, even by pricey San Francisco Bay area standards.  But, midtown Palo Alto was a little less pricey.  My apartment, though ridiculously expensive by what I call “normal” standards, was a good deal by Palo Alto standards.  I like that – I like being the “poor relation” in a pricey area.  There were about thirty apartments built around a central courtyard with trees, two patios, plants, and a pool in the back.  I say “about thirty” because I never noticed the exact number – how California is that!

Building view via Google street view

Apartment building, front view, July 1999

Another view, front of the building, June 2009

Satellite view, apartment complex, 2004

Satellite view, apartment complex, showing location of my apartments

I lived on the second floor,  an apartment with high ceilings, big windows and a screen door which opened up to a view of the inner courtyard.  The apartment I lived in for eleven years was a two bedroom, with a big window facing the inner courtyard and another big window across from it, against the back wall, looking out onto a tree in the condo parking lot next door. I didn’t have a balcony, but there was enough room to place a container garden against the railing, across from my front door.  From my desk near the back window I looked to my left and saw a tree, and to my right I saw the top of another tree from the inner courtyard.  When it was warm I saw my plants from beyond the screen door.  It was magical.  The light, the courtyard, the trees, the plants, the pool, the open layout, the glorious weather – the entire time I was there it felt like I was living in a resort.

My container garden, 1st apartment, April 2004

Another view, my container garden, 1st apartment, April 2004

My second apartment was a one bedroom, still on the second floor, across the courtyard from my first apartment.  I was back in school and needed to economize.  While not as wonderful as the first apartment (the layout was different, not as much natural light) – it was still wonderful.  When I was in my second apartment my plants were nestled outside against an exterior wall.

My container garden, 2nd apartment, May 2005

Another view, my container garden, 2nd apartment, May 2009

In most apartment complexes you don’t get to have your own in ground garden; our place was different.   The place had a bit of a funky quality – which I like a lot.  Someone (might have been the apartment managers) had created a space for a garden.  As my plants got bigger I moved them to the garden, along with new plants I bought for the garden.  The garden was a low key affair – put in a few plants, a bit of topsoil, water once or twice a week during the dry season.  That’s it.  Given the soil and the dry climate there were almost no weeds. There was a bird of paradise bush.  In season the lily of the nile, agapanthus, bloomed.  There were hummingbirds.

View, garden and courtyard, May 2004

Another view, garden and courtyard, May 2009

Courtyard with Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus) and Bird of Paradise, July 2007

Courtyard with overflow plants from my container garden, May 2009

And the pool – did I say there was a pool?  There was a pool at the back and it was wonderful.  It wasn’t heated, so the swimming season was only from late May, early June, through September.  Unlike some areas in the US, there was no rule that you have to have a lifeguard or pool attendant, so pool hours were very generous – daytime to around 10 PM at night, though if you live in northern California you know there’s not much night swimming.  Nights, even in the summer, tend to be blissfully cool.   The pool was used, but not heavily.   There were many, many times that I was the only one there.  It was my pool.  When a family member came to visit we spent many happy hours at the pool, swimming, then, using Styrofoam pool toys (“noodles”) lazily kicking our way back and forth, talking and laughing.  I was so happy.  Some summers I lived in my swimsuit on the weekends, putting shorts on over my suit to go to an art exhibit at the Palo Alto Cultural Center or to get the paper, coffee or a burrito.

Apartment pool, November 2007. Too cool for swimming, but still beautiful.

Pool, June 2009, late afternoon. My things are in my usual spot.

Pool, July 2008. Lovely reflections.

Getting ready to get out of the water, June 2009, a month before I left. I'll always think of this as my pool.

The place wasn’t perfect.  The apartments were large but didn’t have much soundproofing.  If you don’t get the right tenants, interior courtyards can be awful – sound carries.  So the apartment managers tried to get responsible tenants who weren’t noisy.   Palo Alto is a desirous place to live and the schools are excellent, so we had a mix of ages and nationalities, singles, couples, people with children.  For fifteen years, this place worked out well for me.  I didn’t want to leave.

I’ve learned that it’s different now.  The former apartment managers told me that the name has changed, and the plants were torn up to put in new patios.  For new tenants the rent is $500 more than it used to be.  I understand.  Given the location and the structure of the building, you could change the place and charge a lot more.  You could take away some of that naturalness, that imperfection, the communal space.   It will be a good place, but it won’t be my place.

I guess it’s true – you can’t go home again (apologies to Thomas Wolfe).  Even if I would ever move back to California and live in paradise, it won’t be that paradise.