Thursday, August 15, 2013

It’s Not Being Paranoid When It’s Happening To You

Merriam Webster’s Dictionary defines paranoia as:

A psychosis characterized by systematized delusions of persecution or grandeur usually without hallucinations
 A tendency on the part of an individual or group toward excessive or irrational suspiciousness and distrustfulness of others

There is no doubt that paranoia is a legitimate mental illness suffered by many individuals. However, what happens when a person experiences a series of what may be random but very real coincidences that have the same effect on their psyche and emotional well-being?  We have all watched movies or television shows about people who were telling the truth and not even their closest friends and family would believe them.  For the sake of entertainment, those stories are generally given a happy ending.  After all, what could be a crueler fate than telling the truth and not having those closest to you believe you or to be labeled as paranoid or delusional when your experiences are very real.  

Well sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, not all truth is quickly realized and not all truth tellers are vindicated.  Unlike actual paranoid schizophrenics, most people who find themselves in a situation in which their credibility is being constantly questioned just go silent.  It is easier.

Whether it’s a fictional story of a woman who thought she saw her missing child after 8 years; a mother who insists that a drug caused her child’s illnesses; a woman who knows that she was taken advantage of in a real estate deal; or a financial expert who tried to warn the world about the dangers of unregulated derivative trading, women are far more likely than men to be dismissed as exaggerating, over-reacting or paranoid. Faced with being labeled as having an emotional or mental defect most women choose the path of least resistance and stop talking.  Sometimes the battle to share your truth simply wears you down.

Today I experienced another in a long string of those seemingly random coincidences, which make you ask yourself,  “am I paranoid?”  The only comfort is knowing is that if you’re still asking yourself the question you most likely are not.  The secret fear however, is that if the coincidences keep up you soon will be.

As my friends on Facebook know I am a fan of the company JCLU Forever a faith inspired Christian t-shirt and apparel brand created by three girls who aren't ashamed to profess their faith to the world.

Since I love their clothing designs, believe in their message, I desperately needed to replace the wardrobe which I had to leave behind, especially the long sleeve white blouses that I wore while working in the garden.   I prefer long sleeve t-shirts because they’re multi-seasonal, great for layering, and protect me from plants and other objects to which I may have an allergic reaction.  It’s hard to find long-sleeve t-shirts in the summer, so I was really excited when I discovered that they had some in stock. 

So, after saving up enough money, I finally placed my order the first week of July and have been patiently waiting all of this time for it to arrive. Because they are a small business I wanted allow them plenty of time to process and ship the order. However, after a month had elapsed I became very concerned that the order had been lost or the items were out of stock or on back order. I emailed the company of August 9th and did not receive a reply so today I called them.

Imagine my shock when I was advised that the order had been shipped from their company on July 8th via the USPS.  However, when it arrived in Kearney, instead of being delivered to the house where I am currently staying, the package was re-routed to my former address in Philadelphia. The clothing for which I saved and have needed has been sitting in a post office in Philadelphia for the past month and no attempt has been made to notify me of the package at all.

Of course, you might understand if I had ordered an item to be sent to my former address in Philadelphia and it was never forwarded to Kearney but for the reverse to happen is another matter.

Here’s how this may have happened.  After leaving Philadelphia in April and finally arriving in Kearney, I filled out a USPS change of address form requesting that all of the mail for my parent’s household be forwarded to Kearney so I could do my best to clear up any outstanding issues.  Prior to leaving and in the subsequent few weeks after my departure, I notified all of the required parties of my mother's death, the sale of her home and my current situation, supplying anyone who asked with a death certificate or any other pertinent information. I advised any debtors that the title company as a deposit on inheritance taxes was holding all of the remaining proceeds from the sale of the house in escrow.  I only advised weeks after the settlement by an attorney that the amount that was being held was excessive and that I had not been obligated to sign the letter agreeing to hold the funds since clearly I would not have owed any inheritance taxes.  None of this had been explained to me at the time of settlement.  The only thing that was explained was that I would probably get the money back in five or six months after I filed inheritance taxes.  Meanwhile I have a few weeks to vacate my place of residence of the last 40 years and was left with no money to either find a new place to live or move my possessions.  Since the money being held in escrow is more than enough to pay any outstanding debts, I have advised debtors, not including any of my personal debts, to forward their bills, addressed to my mother’s estate to the title company.  I also left instructions with the new owner of the property.

However a month or two after my arrival in Kearney I started receiving all sorts of junk mail and bills addressed to my mother (not her estate) at this address. This was not forwarded mail but actual letters addressed directly to my mother, knowing that she is deceased and never left Philadelphia.  I even received a small check, addressed to my mother, which I did not cash but am holding as evidence.   Most of this mail, I marked as "Return to Sender/ Addressee Deceased", the rest I am holding as evidence of pattern of harassment that began in Philadelphia and seems to have followed me to Kearney.   The occasional prank or piece of junk mail, I can take in stride. However, after I started getting mail addressed to my father who passed away in 1991, I had had enough.

I went directly to the USPS website and filled out individual change of address requests.  For my mother, I requested that her mail be returned back to Philadelphia since her ashes are scattered on the lawn of her home.  For my father, I requested to have his mail forwarded to the cemetery in which he is buried. Of course, I know that was an extreme response but when you’re still receiving offers from scammers offering to buy your home months after you’re all but had to give it away and people who making light of your grief, you respond emotionally. 

I have no intention of ever returning to Philadelphia for any reason. I have been advised that after my formal declaration of my mother’s assets at the time that her estate was probated, I am not required to file inheritance taxes.  Since the proceeds of the house primarily went to paying the outstanding mortgage and there was little life insurance left, I technically inherited nothing.  When I signed the document agreeing to allow the title company to withhold the balance left over from the sale, I was not advised that I had any other option. My own real estate agent knew that I had no way of holding on to the house, since I had exhausted my personal savings during the years that I had been caring for my mother. All that I had left were my personal possession, which were sadly, in my mother’s house.

So maybe I am a little paranoid to wonder why the few packages that I ordered from other companies that were shipped via UPS and FedEx arrived to me without any problem, or wonder what other mail addressed to me is sitting in the post office in Philadelphia.  I don’t think so.  I think that my suspicions are very healthy.  I’m just glad I made that call today.  After a call to the local post office, I have been advised that my package will be forwarded to my current location.  I will update you when it arrives even though it would be much easier for me to go silent. 

All of this over a measly $5,000.00 which means little to those who are holding it but was my only chance to hold on to some of what my mother and I had worked our lives to save.  I had lost my mother to a dreadful disease and needed to hold on to a few memories.  I left with nothing but they still want more, my sanity

Friday, August 2, 2013

Advice to Future Family Caregivers … Protect Yourself

Yesterday,  I wrote a satirical Facebook post about the woes of being a family caregiver.  It read:
“Ladies, if you have an aging husband or one who insists on bringing his sickly parents to live with you, get to know your local bartender VERY well. Better yet, start your own bar so you will have handsome, hard bodied young things to look at on a regular basis. Besides, you will need to drink a lot. Do you know what it is like when you have to put handicap rails all over your bathroom? Or what your house will smell like when adults have diarrhea and can't make to the bathroom quickly. You home will be too depressing for words.”

While much of that post was all in good fun, there was an underlying truth. Being a family caregiver is not easy and certainly not for everyone. Those of us who have been family caregivers often have very mixed emotions about our decision.  There are decided advantages to caring for a loved one in the home in terms of the quality of time spent and care given.  However, too many of us were ill prepared for the legal and financial aspects of providing long term care.  As the song says, “sometimes love just ain’t enough.”

From an emotional and psychological standpoint there is little that can prepare anyone for having to feed and bath the parents who once fed and bathed you. Nor are most of us prepared to have our parents look at us as if we are complete strangers one moment and with resentment the next because they cannot understand why their child is telling them what to do.

From a financial perspective, most of us may have developed a plan that included saving for a new car, education or for a home but in the majority of case those plans did not consider the potential need to remodel a home for the special needs of an elderly parent, paying $18-$20/hr for respite care or, paying for the special transportation of persons who are immobile. The average working class family has little wiggle room in their budget for hiring an ambulance to take a loved one back and forth to doctor appointments or for installing walk-in baths or stair lifts. These are expenses that are not covered by Medicare or most health insurance plans.

Yet, the most difficult and heart-wrenching challenges of being a family caregiver are the legal ones. When and how do you decide that you have to take over managing the financial affairs of your parents?  This is not a prospect that most people with good intentions look relish.  However waiting too late to make decisions about power of attorneys and guardianship can have disastrous consequences.  While there are some legal protections in place for spouses, there are few for adult children or other adult family members when it comes to caring for a loved one.

In 2004, my mother was diagnosed with Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus (NPH); a condition, which left untreated, causes dementia and progresses in the same manner as Alzheimer’s.  Due to concerns about her other pre-existing conditions and my mother’s concerns about the surgical procedure involved in treating NPH, she opted not to have the shunt implant at that time.  Understanding my mother’s prognosis and knowing that without corrective surgery my mother would need long-term care, I began considering all of the options for providing for her care. Based upon our earlier discussions, I knew that my mother did not want to spend her last years in a nursing home, nor did I want that for her.  So in 2005, while my mother was still mentally competent, and after having researched my options thoroughly, I came up with an action plan for caring for her.  Since her condition would impair her mobility, my mother needed to relocate from her multi-floor home to a more manageable single floor residence. In addition, since she did not have long-term care insurance she needed to sell her home, pay off her mortgage and put the money into an escrow account for her long-term care.  That, along with her retirement pension and social security would have been enough to provide for her care. On my part, I had planned to use my 401K savings as a down payment on a home, put in for a job transfer and relocate us both to an area with an overall lower cost of living and in a closer proximity to family members. Unfortunately that is not what happened.

Instead of approaching the situation logically, my mother was not ready to part with her home and make the move in 2005. As a result I spent the next seven years trying to make the best of an impractical situation.  By the time that my mother did recognize the wisdom in my original plan, market conditions adversely impacted real estate values and her house was in need of major repairs.  The end result was that upon my mother’s death, I was left in the position of being without income, savings and not only unable to hold on to her home but my own possessions.

The sad truth is that as a family caregiver you run the risk of not only losing your loved one to their illness but also ruining your health and your finances.

Here are the cold hard facts about being a family caregiver:
“According to the National Alliance for Caregiving and the American Association of Retired Persons, in 2009, 19 percent of U.S. households were providing care for an older adult — some 43.5 million family caregivers nationwide. 
That same survey revealed that 67 percent of those caregivers are women, with an astonishing 55 percent being employed while providing care. The average caregiver spends 19 hours per week caring for her parent, according to the survey.” 
Of those who do end up being caregivers, the financial costs are not often realized. According to AARP,  20 percent of caregivers have to quit work in order to provide care; of those, 31 percent lose their life savings doing so.” 
- See more at:

As part of their series on family caregivers, The Takeaway analyzed statistics from AARP, the National Alliance for Caregiving and the Family Caregiving Alliance, which show:
•    51 percent of care recipients live in their own home, 29 percent live with their family caregiver, and 4 percent live in nursing homes and assisted living.
•    40 to 70 percent of family caregivers have clinically significant symptoms of depression. Approximately a quarter to half of these caregivers meet the diagnostic criteria for major depression.
•    More women than men are caregivers: An estimated 66 percent of caregivers are female, 34 percent take care of two or more people, and the average age of a female caregiver is 48-years-old.
•    73 percent of family caregivers who care for someone over the age of 18 either work or have worked while providing care. 66 percent have had to make some adjustments to their work life, from reporting late to work to giving up work entirely. 1 in 5 family caregivers have had to take a leave of absence.
•    The value of the services family caregivers provide for "free" when caring for older adults is estimated to be $375 billion a year. That is almost twice the amount that is actually spent on home care and nursing home services, which is estimated to be a combined $158 billion.
•    Women who are family caregivers are 2.5 times more likely than non-caregivers to live in poverty and five times more likely to receive Supplemental Security Income.
•    47 percent of working caregivers indicate an increase in caregiving expenses has caused them to use up all or most of their savings.

As someone who has been through the experience of caring for a loved one with a slowly debilitating illness that required long-term part and subsequent full-time care, I would like to offer this advice to future family caregivers.

1.    Start thinking about the possibility that you may end up having to care for an aging parent or other relative, now.  Once they are in need of care, it is too late.  While you may be in your 20s now and your parents in their 40s and in great health, it is tempting to think that discussions about long-term care can wait.  They can’t.  It is important that your loved one's wishes be made clear and the more that they can put in writing the better.

a.    Most of the most important financial and legal decisions involving long-term care need to be made long before care is required. If you should find yourself in a position of caring for a person with dementia or who is otherwise unable to speak for themselves, you must make sure that all legal documentation was drafted at a time where there is no question that they were competent.  This is for their protection as well as yours.

ARAG®, a global provider of legal solutions provides this list of questions to use a guide to discussing long-term care plans with your parents:  

1.    What is your parent's financial situation? "This includes knowing where checking and savings accounts are held, as well as if any financial planning has been done to deal with a long-term care situation," says Healy.
2.    Does your parent have a Durable Power of Attorney? This document gives someone else decision-making power if the parent becomes incapacitated. Everyone needs to know who can write checks for your parent and who is responsible for paying bills and manage finances when it's needed.
3.    Does your parent have a Healthcare Power of Attorney? Who will make medical decisions if the parent is unable to do so?  Does that person know that he or she is responsible and the preferences of the parent?
4.    Does your parent have a Living Will? Different from a Healthcare Power of Attorney, this document spells out a person's wishes about medical and life-sustaining procedures. Who has been named? Does he or she know the parent's wishes?
5.    Is there a plan in case the parent becomes incapacitated? Does the parent have preferences on where he or she will go?  Has any financial planning been done to manage this possibility?
6.    Is there a Will? While this can be one of the toughest questions a person asks a parent, simply knowing where it is located and who is responsible for managing the estate can save everyone some stress.

Read more here:

b.     Life, health and long-term care insurance are much less expensive to purchase when you’re young and in good health.  Once you’re past 50-65, the cost of insurance increases significantly. 

2.    Talk to other family caregivers and get a full understanding of what caregiving entails. There are a number of groups that you can join online as well as in person, which will allow you to gain insights into the day-to-day routines and experiences of other caregivers. Joining a group with other caregivers will give you an opportunity to listen and ask questions in a supportive and non-judgmental atmosphere.  It also gives you an opportunity to talk to others who have no vested interest in the care of your loved. Be aware that many health care professionals and “caregiving counseling agencies have a bias toward in-home versus nursing home care.  “

In his analysis of the recent study conducted by The Pew Research Center, Drew DeSilver discusses the evolving role of family caregivers. He writes:
  “Caregiving encompasses everything from buying someone groceries and managing their finances to helping them with bathing, dressing and other tasks of daily life. But a 2012 survey by the AARP Public Policy Institute and the United Hospital Fund found that in recent years, the role of family caregivers “has dramatically expanded to include performing medical/nursing tasks of the kind and complexity once only provided in hospitals.” In fact, nearly half (46%) of family caregivers reported performing such medical/nursing tasks, three-quarters of those said their tasks included giving injections, administering intravenous fluids or otherwise managing medications”

You might be surprised to know that most in-home health aides are not allowed to perform the most basic tasks like applying anti-rash cream, changing a bandage or administering nasal spray.  If your loved one needs these things, you as the family caregiver must do the things.

3.    Dispel the idea that you are being selfish for thinking of protecting yourself.  We have all heard the horror stories about people who take advantage of the elderly and mentally infirmed. They are enough to make your blood boil. However, for every one of those stories there are thousands of people who every day are doing their very best to care for their loved ones.  Protecting your health as well as your legal and financial interests is simply good sense.  I know that my mother never wanted me to end up homeless or penniless and neither would your loved one.

4.    Learn to put your emotions on hold. As a family caregiver you will have to make some of the hardest decisions that you will probably ever make.  You are your loved ones advocate, the best and,  sometimes the only one they have.  You have to be able to communicate clearly and decisively on their behalf as well as your own.   Displays of emotion will make you appear weak and vulnerable in the eyes of health care professionals, lawyers and other people.  Don’t expect sympathy for your situation.  There are predatory loan and scam artists that are just waiting to take advantage of your situation.  Don't be a victim.

5.    Seek Counsel from professionals: Estate Planners, Financial Consultants, Tax Advisors,  Real Estate Agents and Caregiver Support Counselors.  Get references and check their credentials before paying retainer fees.  Don't allow one lawyer to handle everything.  You need a lawyer to represent your loved one and one to represent you. Allow both lawyers to review all documents.

6.    Realistically assess your support network.  Ask for help from friends and family but don’t count on it and don’t get your feelings hurt when people are busy.  Remember that everyone’s life is just as busy as it was before you took on the role of caregiver.   Make sure that there are people in your support network who care about you and not just your loved one.  So much of your time, attention and energy will be focused on your loved one that it will be easy to become a mere shadow on the stage of your own life.  You will need a people who will just pick up the phone and inquire about your health and well being.   That is not being selfish.  Being a caregiver can be very isolating and very lonely especially if you are caring for a person with dementia.

7.     Understand that ultimately the buck stops with you. Develop a long-term care plan that works best for your loved one and yourself and stick to it. The opinions of others who are not actively involved in the day-to-day care of your loved one do not count.  No matter what you decide or do you will never please everyone.  In my case, I should have followed through with getting my job transfer and moving in 2005.  My mother would have soon realized that she could not live on her own and would have moved to live with me.  I would have worried about Mom living on her own for awhile.  However by following through with what I knew was the right course of action,  I would have been a much happier and less stressed caregiver which would have been better for both of us.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Do You Ever Wonder Who "They" Really Are?

"Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, 
for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it! 
Remember those in prison, as if you were there yourself. 
Remember also those being mistreated, 
as if you felt their pain in your own bodies."  
Hebrews 13:2-3

Today  read the following message from a group named Charter for Compassion which in many ways illustrates that scripture.

A teaching story:

Pastor Jeremiah Steepek (pictured here)
transformed himself into a homeless person and went to the 10,000 member church that he was to be introduced as the head pastor at that morning.

He walked around his soon to be church for 30 minutes while it was filling with people for service....only 3 people out of the 7-10,000 people said hello to him. He asked people for change to buy food....NO ONE in the church gave him change. He went into the sanctuary to sit down in the front of the church and was asked by the ushers if he would please sit n the back. He greeted people to be greeted back with stares and dirty looks, with people looking down on him and judging him. 

As he sat in the back of the church, he listened to the church announcements and such.

When all that was done, the elders went up and were excited to introduce the new pastor of the church to the congregation........"We would like to introduce to you Pastor Jeremiah Steepek"....The congregation looked around clapping with joy and anticipation.....The homeless man sitting in the back stood up.....and started walking down the aisle.....the clapping stopped with ALL eyes on him....he walked up the altar and took the microphone from the elders (who were in on this) and paused for a moment....then he recited

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

After he recited this, he looked towards the congregation and told them all what he had experienced that morning...many began to cry and many heads were bowed in shame.... he then said....Today I see a gathering of people......not a church of Jesus Christ. The world has enough people, but not enough disciples...when will YOU decide to become disciples? He then dismissed service until next week.......Being a Christian is more than something you claim. It's something you live by and share with others.

The End

Of course, my mind working as it does, could not help but think about the final episode of the show Touched By An Angel.   If you've never seen that episode, I won't spoil it for you.  You can watch it here.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

So What Are Your Plans For the Future?

From the age of 15 until last year, if you had asked me that question I would have responded with a laundry list of goals and objectives.  That all changed in 2012.

Today, if you ask me that question I will probably respond with a bit of embarrassment, "I really don't know."  Don't misunderstand me, I have goals and I make plans.  However, all of my best laid plans went up in proverbial smoke.    In our society, we are taught that we must have very clear goals and objectives.  However, I have learned that when you make a firm decision to follow Jesus,  God has a way of changing everything.  A very hard thing to explain.

Maybe one day I'll be able to explain it as well as the gentleman in this video clip.   Enjoy and Thanks for following my blog.

Friday, June 28, 2013

And Now For A Brief Intermission

Living & Dining Room photo taken 6/28/13

I am going to take a  short break from working on this blog to spend time doing a little creative writing for my other blog Pam's Coffee Conversation.  So, I want to take this moment to wish my Canadian friends, Happy Canada Day (July 1st) and my friends in the US, a very Happy Independence Day (July 4th).

Dining Room photo taken 6/28/13

Dining Room photo take 5/6/13

As you can see from the photos, contractor Lanny Johnson and his team of subcontractors and next generation assistants have  made amazing progress with restoring a house that many people would have chosen to just gut and rebuild from the ground up.

However, when a house has a good foundation it is worth restoring.  This has truly been a team effort.  I am so very proud to be able to play a small part in this undertaking.

If all goes according to schedule, next week the archway will be installed and painting will begin.

In the meanwhile, I will continue to document the restoration of this beautiful home in the middle of America.  So long for now from the house at 30th Street & 4th Avenue in Kearney, NE. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Let There Be Light and Floors, Doors and Baseboards

Hello again from the house at 30th Street & 4th Avenue in Kearney, NE. Thanks to the guys at Mostek Electric we have light.  YAY! 

A lot has happened since my last post.  In addition to installing new flooring on the main floor of the house,  Garringer Flooring applied the same golden oak stain and flooring covering to the upstairs floors.   Those floors were not replaced but simply sanded, stained and sealed.  The results were better than even they expected.

Of course, while the flooring contractor was working on the floors we were essentially locked out.

So to pass the time, the contractor,  Lanny Johnson decided to focus on the garden.  Lanny and his trusted assistant, yours truly, took on the task of extending the existing sprinkler system from the lawn out to the curb area.  This also provided me with an opportunity to see just how well contracting paper functions as a weed suppressant.  After I weeded sections of the yard, I covered the ground with contracting paper then cover the paper with the grass,  shrub clippings and in some areas back filled dirt.    This was hot, dirty and sweaty work but, as I told Lanny, it beats sitting at a desk for 8 hours under artificial lighting any day.   I do, however,  desperately need a manicure.

And if that wasn't enough excitement, the team from Sutterquist Cabinetry began installing the kitchen cabinets.

I told you that it's been a busy week.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A Quick Update from 30th & 4th

 The week is already off to a very busy start.  However, I wanted to share this very quick update on the progress of the house at 30th & 4th in Kearney, NE.

The flooring contractor has finished the downstairs floors and as you can see, they are beautiful.   The photo on the left shows the bare wood floors.  The photo below shows the floors after they were  treated with golden oak stain by Diamond Vogle and then coated.  To protect them from damage they've been covered with contracting paper.

While the work is going on in the house, we are also working in the garden.  When you haven't been able to live in your home for a year things in the yard can get a little too unruly.  This week I expect to be doing a lot of weeding and removing trash trees.  I'll also be testing the effectiveness of using contracting paper as a weed cover as well as using the mixture of vinegar, dishwashing liquid and salt to kill weeds. 

 I've tried the later at the other house and it actually does seem to be quite effective.

By the way, I did finish sanding all of this primed wood.  Whew!  But these little details will make a big difference.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Perennial Hope

"In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer." -- Albert Camus French-Algerian Nobel Prize winning author, journalist, and philosopher.

The preceding quote by Albert Camus has always been one of my favorites but it has never had more meaning to me than it does now.

While the team from Garringer Custom Flooring of Kearney is installing the new floors in the house on 30th Street, my days have been spent sanding and painting the rosettes. plinths, corner stakes, trim and baseboards that will be used to create the window casings, trim and baseboards in the house. 

Do those rosettes remind you of anything?  :-)

Each one of the rosettes, plinths, and other wood pieces will be sanded, painted with a primer coat and then sanded again to a smooth finish before it is installed and painted again.  This is definitely not work for anyone worried about their manicure, getting calluses or having old looking hands.  I've already worn out one pair of workman's gloves.

 This task may seem tedious and boring to some people but for me it has been cathartic and in many ways akin to the Buddhist practice of using singing bowls for meditation. I have found that there is something very rewarding about taking a piece of wood and sanding it to a beautiful smooth finish.  This week has also been a pleasure because I've been working outside and enjoying the view of a perennial garden coming to life.  I love perennial flowers because they are nature's way of reminding us that something that may appear dead for a season can come back to life in the spring. 

This year I missed seeing the crocuses and hyacinths and daffodils that my mom had planted in her yard. For me, they always signaled the return of Spring.  If they had bloomed before I left, I didn’t notice.  While I normally appreciate the peaceful stillness of winter,  this past one was simply dreary,  devoid of peace and seemingly endless.   
Seeing Spring blooms were among the simple joys that I feared had been lost to me forever.  It was nice to be reminded this week that seasons do change.  .

The following photos provide you with a quick tour around the gardens. Enjoy



Bleeding Heart

Cottage Roses

Cottage Roses

Cottage Roses

Bearded Iris

For more photos of the garden and this home restoration project visit:

Also, I've recently been inspired to relaunch my other blog Pam's Coffee Conversation. Trust me, it won't be the same. I've changed.   This time I'm be chronicling my foray back into writing poetry and fiction.   Stay tuned.

Friday, May 31, 2013

What Constitutes A Miracle?

Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines the word miracle as: “1: an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs; 2: an extremely outstanding or unusual event, thing, or accomplishment”

While the on-going restoration of Thomas Murray and Grete Sandberg’s Kearney, NE residence may not meet the first  description of a "miracle,  the fact that the occupants escaped the fire, which started some time around 3am, does.  

These pictures show the magnitude of the damage that ravaged their home on the morning of July 23, 2012 and  clearly confirm why the work done so far to restore this house is truly an outstanding accomplishment. 

 To view the photojournal of the restoration visit: 

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Restoring the House on 30th & 4th

Update: The owner has given me permission to share the exact address of the house.

As I shared in my previous post,  I'm blogging from 27th Street in Kearney, NE and documenting the restoration of this lovely home on 30th Street and 4th Avenue.

The fire that nearly completely destroyed the interior of this home and subsequently took the life of one of the residents is still an unsolved mystery.  Since local police are actively investigating this tragedy, I will not be discussing any of those details on this blog. What I will be discussing is the near miraculous restoration of the home and surrounding gardens being done my contractor Lanny Johnson, a host of subcontractors and the owners.

The house was originally built in  a colonial style during the 1880s but has had several additions and remodels over the past 130 +/- years.  The task of restoring this property began this past January.  The goal is to have the owners back in their home by the end of the summer.  Some people think that this is mission impossible but the contractor believes it’s very doable. 

One of the first lessons that I’ve learned while working on this project is the importance of choosing the right wood. Lanny chose poplar wood for the window casings, baseboards, arches and all wood surfaces except the floors and stairs because it is the best choice for wood that will not be stained.   For the restoration, the window casings and baseboards will only be sanded to a smooth finish, primed and then painted.  The floors and stairs will be stained with a amber colored finish.

Here are photos of the new floors, which are in the process of being put in this week.

A little more background about Kearney, NE.

Kearney is situated between the cities of Grand Island and Lexington, NE.  According to the city's website the community was originally named Kearney Junction due to the fact that the town was located where the Burlington and Missouri made its junction with the tracks of the Union Pacific Railroad.  The “Kearney” was taken from Fort Kearny, which was established in 1848 to offer protection to pioneers, Pony Express riders, and prospectors traveling west on the Oregon Trail.  According to the city's official website,  "Fort Kearny was the first U.S. Army Post on the Oregon Trail and was never attacked by Indians."   The site also notes: “ Observant readers are quick to point out the spelling differences between the fort and the town. The extra “e” in Kearney is not difficult to explain. Someone in the post office simply made a spelling error and by the time it was realized, no one felt a change was necessary."

In addition, to Interstate another major thoroughfare is U.S.Route 30, "an east–west main route of the system of United States Numbered Highways, with the highway traveling across the northern tier of the country. It is the third longest U.S. route, after U.S. Route 20 and U.S. Route 6. The western end of the highway is at Astoria, Oregon; the eastern end is in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Despite long stretches of parallel and concurrent Interstate Highways, it has managed to avoid the decommissioning that has happened to other long haul routes such as U.S. Route 66." -- courtesy of Wikipedia.

Shortly after my arrival, I had the opportunity to travel Route 30 from Kearney to Lexington.  One of my bags did not arrive with me and since, Kearney does not have an actual bus station, I needed to retrieve it in Lexington.  My first impression of Route 30 was, "Even I can drive this.  It's completely flat, has very few intersections and none of the curves that I'm used to trying to negotiate.”

Monday, May 27, 2013

Greetings from 27th Street

Sometimes when you help others rebuild their lives you rebuild your own in the process.

Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine that I would be spending this Memorial Day in Kearney,  (pron.: /ˈkɑrni/) Nebraska.  Until two months ago, I had never heard of the place.  Yet, here I am.

For you history, geography and number junkies here are a few background facts about Kearney that you may find fascinating.  Kearney is the county seat of Buffalo County, Nebraska, Strategically located on I-80. with convenient access to major markets like Omaha-Lincoln, Denver, Kansas City, Des Moines, Wichita and Cheyenne,  Kearney is at the center of a 7-state region of 20 million people.  The city's longitudinal and latitudinal position is 40°42′3″N 99°4′52″W (40.700731, -99.081150).

While you may not have heard of Kearney, if you live in the US you've are probably familiar Interstate 80 (I-80), the transcontinental limited-access highway that runs from downtown San Francisco, California to Teaneck, New Jersey in the New York City Metropolitan Area.  I-80 is second-longest Interstate Highway in the United States (after Interstate 90) and is the Interstate Highway that most closely approximates the route of the historic Lincoln Highway, the first road across America. The highway roughly traces other historically significant travel routes in the Western United States: the Oregon Trail across Wyoming and Nebraska, the California Trail across most of Nevada and California, and, except in the Great Salt Lake area, the entire route of the First Transcontinental Railroad.

But none of this is what brought me to Kearney.  I came to Kearney, at the invitation of a new friend, seeking solace and a place to catch my breath and regroup. This is exactly what I have found. 

Thomas “Brick” Murray and Grete Sandberg have not only welcomed me into their home but into their hearts and their family.  This couple and their family are well acquainted with grief and loss themselves, having lost almost all of their possessions and more importantly a daughter to a devastating fire last year.   As one family member said to me, or awhile we were homeless. Therefore, they could empathize with this weary, grieving traveler.  

Our stories of loss, while different in origin, are very similar.  It is the story shared by everyone who suddenly loses everything that once made a place, home.  Whether the loss is the result of a natural disaster or financial setback the narrative themes are the same.  It’s the story of: lost photos and irreplaceable keepsakes; family recipes written in notebooks and clipped from magazines; gardening tools and holiday decorations that will have to be replaced; looking in a closet and knowing that your old work shirts, favorite jeans, the perfect white blouse, the little simple black dress that fit just right, the hats, boots and even perfumes that reflect your personal style, aren’t there.  All of those tangible things that held a lifetime of memories are gone and most can never be replaced. More importantly, it’s a story of no longer seeing the face or hearing the familiar voice of someone you love.  It’s about waking up one morning so grateful for being alive and waking up the next wondering how you are going to be able to go on. 

Grete and Brick are in the process of rebuilding their lives and their previous home and I have been given the privilege of being a part of their process while I am trying to rebuild my own life.  For the next few months, I will not only be documenting the rebuilding of the their home but I am actually participating in the rebuilding.  In fact, I’ve spent the last three weeks sanding wood and helping to rip up old flooring.  It was physically exhausting work that left my muscles aching but my spirit feeling good.  It’s just what I need right now.

In fact, for now this place in America’s heartland, called Kearney, feels like just where I need to be.

  The healing process has begun for all of us. 

To view the entire photo album of the restoration on the house visit:

Thursday, May 2, 2013

My Prayer for the United States ... Everyone Should Travel the Road

I was supposed to write this blog post yesterday but I'm glad that I waited until today.  It seems more suited for today.

Today is May 2, 2013 which also happens to be the National Day of Prayer in the United States, a day on which persons of faith are asked to seek God in prayer and meditation for the health and well being of our nation. If you do a Google search on "National Day of Prayer",  it will return headlines like:   "On National Day of Prayer, America needs prayer like never before" ; "On the National Day of Prayer, time for a revival"; and  "Utahns join in National Day of Prayer."

This morning I had a strong suspicion that while millions of us may be praying we will probably not be praying about the same thing. Whose prayer does God answer if we are not in agreement on the nature of our prayer needs.  Do we pray specific prayers like, "God fix the economy" or "God keep us safe"?  Or should we pray general prayers like "God give us guidance"?   I'm sure that there will be a mix of both uttered today.  As for me, my prayer today is for our nation's leaders, in fact for all of its citizenry,  would be that they take the time to travel the nation as I have over the past month and really discover who we are as people, then pray.   

During the month of April I traveled a large swatch of this nation via Greyhound and Trailways buses through America's big cities like: Philadelphia, PA;  Washington, DC; and Chicago, IL;  medium sized cities like Richmond,VA; Winston-Salem, NC; Des Moines; IA; and Omaha, NE; and small towns like Maple Shade, NJ,  Cookesville, TN; and Rock Island, IA-IL. 

In addition to having the opportunity of enjoying the beauty of the Blue Ridge and Smokey Mountains, this journey has reconfirmed something which I have always known about Americans, we are more alike than we are different.

 I used the term swatch intentionally because it brings to mind the  swatches of fabric, (remnants of larger pieces that were used to make garments or other creations) that are used to make quilts.  A quilt is who we really are as a nation, not a melting pot.  The United States is a patchwork of races, religions and social classes held together by the simple common threads of our humanity and the country we call home.  Sadly, sometimes we forget that.  Too often we spend so much of our time focusing on our differences in politics, religion, sexual orientation, socio-economic status and geography that we overlook the very simple truth that we are all humans. 

On a bus trip you experience humanity, at its best and worst.  While road trips by car can be equally enlightening there is nothing like a bus trip for people watching and simply listening.  As you sit quietly, trusting your driver to take you from point A to point B, you'll hear the conversations of families excited about going on vacation;  lovers telling each other how much they already miss each other; relatives asking other passengers to look out for their loved ones; and people just checking in to give someone at home their itinerary.

Even in this age of smartphones and iPads, you can't isolate yourself from those around you.  You are simply too close together.  You hear the snores, you see the struggles of those who need a little more leg room and, smell the morning breath of people next to whom you would not normally wake up :-) 

You can experience amazing kindness and civility like; the angel I met in Maple Shade who helped me pay for shipping my excess package, she was not asked, she just offered; the  gentleman in Winston Salem who helped me carry my bags through the terminal;  the guy in Asheville who looked out for me all the way to Chicago;  or the bus driver who tried to help me adjust my ticket because the route seemed to be way out of the way.

Of course, this is reality and the world is not perfect.  So you may also encounter the people who will stand by and watch you struggling with bags;  people who won't move out of the aisle even after you say, "excuse me"; people who won't assist a woman traveling with small children get a seat; people who will stare at you across an aisle as if you remind them of some hated enemy or are from another planet; and people, who when the boarding announcement is made, jump in the front of
people who have been patiently standing in line for nearly an hour. 

If you take the time to strike up conversations you will meet: the woman in the ladies room who is fixing her make-up to meet a boyfriend for the first time; the guy moving from one city to another in search of work; and the young woman traveling home so her parents can hold their 5 week old grandchild. 

This is who were are as Americans.  The race, religion, politics  and national origin of any of these people is irrelevant because their stories could be anyone's.  This is what we so often forget.

So on this National Day of Prayer, my prayer is that everyone will have the opportunity to experience the world as I have.  To travel this nation's big cities and small towns and get a deeper understanding of what's really on the hearts and minds of people.  To understand people's fears, concerns, hopes and dreams.  Then maybe our prayers will be more focused. 

For those of you familiar with the ministry of Jesus, this is exactly what it did. He traveled the road and met the sick, the hungry, the homeless and the heartbroken.  He listened to, conversed with, broke bread with and touched the hearts of the multitudes.  He ministered hope and encouragement to those he met and having compassion for them, he prayed. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Images and Their Meanings


  1. The ability to see, hear, or become aware of something through the senses.
  2. The state of being or process of becoming aware of something in such a way.

realization - understanding - comprehension

courtesy of Google search

We're all familiar with the saying, "a picture is worth a thousand words."  While images may  speak volumes, they do not say the same thing to every person.  For example, one person may see a commercial with a woman dressed in what the world considers to be "sexy" clothing and see that woman as strong and self confident while another viewer of the same ad will see that woman as being exploited.   Another example is that one person may see an image of a woman adorned in the color pink and think of the singer "Pink";  another person will think of the organization "Code Pink; yet another person will think of breast cancer awareness; and still another will think of the co-Founder of the Christian network TBN, Jan Crouch.  In essence, each new image that we see is perceived in the context of our personal libraries of information and experience.  So while I believe that there are some "universal truths", I also believe that, as humans, our perception of images, events and the actions of others are always subjective.  As my friend Penny once brilliantly related in a blog post, our perception of the world around us is always filtered through the lens of our personal experience. 

Since I am not a psychiatrist or sociologist, this blog post is not an attempt to write a thesis on the subject of human perception.  This blog post is simply about why I use avatars, instead of my own photo, in social media.

While my friends know why I use avatars, instead of a photo of myself on my social media profiles, I thought that I'd take a moment to share this with those of you who are reading my blog for the first time.

Here are the avatars that I have most frequently used and a very brief explanation of why I have or still do use them.

While most of my avatars are a reflection of my personal journey toward spiritual wholeness and career fulfillment, I also use my avatars to inspire my friends and those who connect with me on social media. Obviously I can not, nor do I wish to control what each individual sees or how they interpret the meaning of images.  However, it is important to me that those of you with whom I connect online, do not confuse my message with someone else's

The very first avatar that I used was the black butterfly. If you've ever heard the 70s song by the singer Deniece Williams you'll know why.

I've also used an avatar of a butterfly struggling to emerge from it's cocoon. For me that avatar represented the life passages that we all go through as we move from one stage to another. For me, the past decade was a passage of evolving from my mother's daughter to my mother's caregiver. In many respects, the daughter had to become the parent. The cocoon also represented a time of great spiritual, personal and financial struggle for me, as I gave up the security of a well paying career that identified me as "a success" in the eyes of the world, to become a full-time family caregiver, a role which I discovered, the world holds in low regard.

During most of 2012, I used the avatar of the monarch butterfly as a symbol of a woman who has now discovered her worth, not as defined by society, but defined by how God sees me and how I see myself. It also represented both the need to fly free and my personal feelings of vulnerability. Those of you who know anything about butterflies know just how fragile their wings are. There is a strange irony in the fact that almost everyone seems to appreciate the beauty of butterflies but many people fail to recognize just how critical they are to food production. Butterflies, bees & birds pollinate the food crops on which we as humans depend.  Sadly, monarch butterflies are an endangered species.  This is pretty much how I felt at times during 2012 and buying a gun or adopting or dog was not the answer.

This year I've been using the coffee drinking bumble bee as my avatar.  For me this avatar symbolizes a person who is wide awake and ready to achieve the impossible. According to the natural laws of physics, bumblebees are not supposed to be able to fly. Their bodies are too big and their wings are too small. But every day bumblebees defy the rules and fly anyhow. I guess God never told them that they couldn't. Initially, I was only going to use the bumblebee on the Twitter account which I primarily use to follow NASCAR, INDY and other forms of auto and horse racing. But the more that I thought about the fragile state of bee populations; the fact that bees defy the odds; how in the movie Transformers "Bumblebee" isn't the biggest or the strongest of the Autobots but he is Sam's friend and protector; and lastly how this little bumblebee loves coffee, I decided that this avatar really IS who I am in 2013.

My primary avatar, the pink dahlia, is almost a part of my company's business logo.  For me, the pink dahlia symbolizes the strength, beauty and vulnerability of being a woman.  Pink, to me, is also a symbol of peace and courage. 

Of course, I am still a member of the squirrel posse.  Bright eyed, bushy tailed, older, grayer, adapting to an ever changing environment  but still getting in to mischief, especially when I dare to open my mouth and speak out for the things I believe.  in general, surviving. 

photo courtesy of Animal Planet

That's why I use avatars.  My life, and yours, are about a lot more than our outer appearances.  Today,  I hope that my avatars will inspire you to defy both the odds as well as others' perception of who you are.

Friday, March 29, 2013

A New Life for An Old China Cabinet

My Mom loved collecting china, crystal and so do I.   In fact,  over the past two decades, I probably gave my Mom a gift of crystal or silver for almost every birthday and special occasion.  Of course, when you collect china and crystal you want to have a beautiful china cabinet in which to display it.  So when Mom decided in the 90s that she wanted to replace her last dining room set with a new one (pictured at right), I was thrilled to be in a financial position to go halfsies on it. That was a long time ago.

After Mom's health began to decline and it was clear that it was in both of our best interests to move and downsize, we agreed that a lot of that china and crystal had to go.  We had planned to move into a much smaller house or an apartment and most of the furniture would have to go too.   As I began making decisions about which items to let go and which to keep, I decided that anything that we were going to keep would have to be multifunctional.  We both really loved the dining room set but what do you do with a huge china closet when you're planning to dispose of most of your china?  The drawer space at the bottom of the unit was great for storing table cloths and other linens so I knew that it could also be used for clothing if need be.  However, what to do with the top display unit?  After thinking about this question for a long time i decided that I was going to try my hand at converting the top display unit into an indoor greenhouse.   It just made sense since both Mom and I also loved gardening and keeping house plants. 

As events would unfold, we never moved,  Mom would pass away and I never did get the chance to convert the china cabinet the way that I have envisioned.  And now that I will be relocating on my own, I definitely don't need a large formal dining room set.  So for the past few months I've been trying to sell the set.  While the dining table and chairs are still in very good condition, over the past year the china closet has been badly damaged and much of the interior glass and the glass in the doors has shattered.  So I've been offering to sell the table and chairs and just give the china cabinet and buffet/server to anyone willing to pick them up and with an interest in refurbishing them.  Almost no one was interested. Those who were interested in the entire set,  couldn't pick it up. And, I can not ship it.  I've had several people come to take a look at the set and tell me that either "no one is buying china cabinets anymore" or that the "set wasn't worth buying because the china cabinet was damaged".  Every time that I heard one of those latter responses my heart would break a little because they just couldn't see the potential in something for which I once had so many plans.

So today, in preparation for tomorrow's indoor yard sale,  I decided to demonstrate what I once had in mind for giving the china cabinet a new life as a place to start seedlings, over-winter patio plants and hold house plants. 

It was actually a fairly easy process.  First I removed the frames which held the glass panels in the doors of the display area.  This leaves the front of the display area open which would allow air to circulate.  Next, I completely removed the damaged middle horizontal glass shelf.  This slid out easily through the open area in the side doors.   Since the glass in the back wall of the china cabinet was damaged and could not easily be removed, I decided that it needed to be covered.  If I had more time, I would have either covered those panes with contact paper or a very light weight self adhesive tile.   However, since I'm only doing this as a demonstration, I covered the back glass with some leftover Christmas wrapping paper.  I intentionally chose the silver and gold pattern because of its reflective quality.  Also, if I had a little more time, I would run out to my local hardware store and replace the current light bulbs with plant grow lights,  line the bottom of the display unit with a lightweight self adhesive tile, and put in a  drip pan to catch water.  There you have it.  A china cabinet converted into an indoor greenhouse.

This is a traditional indoor plant display which can cost nearly a thousand dollars:

This is my refurbished china cabinet: 

If you are in the Philadelphia, PA / South Jersey area and would like to have this china cabinet, I am still giving it away for free with the purchase of my gardening starter kit.  You only have to be willing to pick it up and give it a little time and tender loving care

.For more information visit my Facebook page