travels

I am not a seasoned international traveller.

My first two visits to Europe were tours with the Smith College Alumnae Chorus, one to Sicily and one to Slovenia. Everything was organized and arranged in advance, so I didn’t need to think about much of anything, other than a few meals here and there. We had our own charter buses, so we didn’t even need to navigate in the places we visited.

At the moment, I am in London, visiting daughter E, granddaughter ABC, and E’s spouse L and L’s parents, with whom they are living. My spouse B and other daughter T are here, too.

Given that this is my first trip abroad that was not an organized tour, I am finding the nuts and bolts of travel a bit daunting. We flew from Newark to Heathrow, two large and totally unfamiliar airports. We took a train to Paddington Station, where E met us to shepherd us to another train and then a walk to their home. Later in the day, when our hotel check-in time arrived, it took both of L’s family’s cars to get us and the luggage the two-ish miles (3km) to our hotel.

Most of our to-ing and fro-ing has been by bus or train. London has a very comprehensive system of public transit, which is great because it is such a huge city.  Unfortunately, I am a) not used to having public transit available and B) intimidated by large cities, so I am grateful to have family with me to keep me on the right track, at least most of the time.

As in our trip to Slovenia, B is acting as the photographer, so I hope to share some posts with photos in the coming days.

Stay tuned!

(I promise not to be in central London near Parliament on election day, December 12. That could become entirely too exciting for someone like me who isn’t used to raucous crowds.)

snow day

There have been a lot of big storms in the United States in recent weeks. Our region hadn’t had too much bad weather – until yesterday and today.

The storm started Sunday morning with an extended period of freezing rain, which made driving inadvisable. Sunday evening, it changed to a heavy, wet snow and it has snowed nearly all day today (Monday). The trees and utility lines are all weighted down with snow. We have lost some limbs from the trees in our yard.

The roads are impossible to keep clear and all the schools, including the University, cancelled classes. Lots of businesses decided to close, as well, for the safety of their employees and customers. Our museum and science center closed. Even our doctors’ office is closed.

B and most of his colleagues are working from home.

As I was contemplating all the closings, I remembered snow days when E and T were young. One of them had learned a song in elementary chorus and we used to sing it sometimes when there are snow days. “There’ll be no school tomorrow, no school tomorrow, no school tomorrow, if it snows.”

And because YouTube exists now, I can search and find recordings! The words and music are by Jay Althouse.

Hospice month

November is National Hospice and Palliative Care Month in the United States. Some people don’t realize that palliative care exists outside of the context of hospice. Palliative care addresses pain that affects someone from any cause. People who are dealing with chronic or severe pain can consult with a palliative care specialist, who will put together a pain management plan for them. Hospice care involves palliative care for those in their final weeks/months of life.

While the alleviation of pain is an important part of hospice care, hospice is meant to serve other needs for the person who is dying and their loved ones. There are social workers and chaplains for help with personal, social, and spiritual needs. Aides help with physical care and companionship. Volunteers come to keep the patient company or offer special skills, such as massage, to relieve pain and stress. Nurses are the driving force that coordinates care. They visit as often as needed as circumstances change.

Hospice as a philosophy is meant to unfold over the final weeks and months, but sometimes is only called in for the very last days. For decades, hospice care providers have been advocating for referrals to be made enough in advance that there is time to develop a relationship with the patient and their loved ones, so that they can provide services while the patient is still able to interact. There are, of course, instances in which that is not possible, when an accident or final illness occurs without notice, but it is still unfortunately common for primary care physicians and specialists to delay hospice referrals.

We experienced such a delay with a family member, so that hospice was only called in for the final day. Even though time was brief, the experienced nurses were able to give us the tools we needed to relieve pain and recognize the progression of symptoms when our loved one was near death.

Our experience with Nana was on the other end of the spectrum. She was under hospice care for fifteen months, was decertified and off hospice for four and a half months, and back on for her final ten weeks. Some people commented to us that we had called hospice in too early, but that wasn’t really the case. Without hospice care, Nana would have died much sooner. At least twice, they were able to treat symptoms that would have caused fatal repercussions, had the hospice nurses not been able to get them under control.

It is true, however, that there are a lot of rules, especially with insurance, about hospice care. Those rules are set up for people who have a fairly accurate life expectancy estimate, such as someone with late stage cancer or kidney failure. With something more unpredictable, like certain types of congestive heart failure or pulmonary disorder, the hospice rules requiring a certain amount of decline over a given time don’t fit very well. I hope that, over time, the rules will be changed to make hospice care more accessible.

As National Hospice and Palliative Care month comes to a close, I salute all the compassionate nurses, aides, volunteers, social workers, chaplains, and administrators of hospice. You help people at one of their most vulnerable times. I wish you the strength and peace needed to continue in such important work.

Thanksgiving

The fourth Thursday of November is celebrated as Thanksgiving Day in the United States.

With so many changes in our family in the past few months, our Thanksgiving was quiet, with just spouse B, daughter T, and my dad Paco here for dinner. B did all the cooking – turkey, two kinds of dressing, mashed potatoes, rutabaga, acorn squash wedges, baked onions, and cranberry orange relish, with apple and pumpkin pies for dessert. It was a lot of food for four people, but we all enjoy having the leftovers. We are in the process of making turkey stock with the carcass and vegetables, something I learned from Nana growing up which has recently come back into food-fashion.

We ate midday here and, at almost the same time, daughter E was eating a Thanksgiving dinner, five time zones away, in London. She had made turkey and trimmings and pies for her daughter ABC, spouse L, and his parents with whom they are making their home. It’s nice that E and L want to keep some United States traditions to pass on to ABC, along with British ones. She is a dual citizen, at least until adulthood. It will depend on the rules in place when she turns 18, whether she will have to renounce her US citizenship to remain in the UK.

Still, she will always be able to celebrate Thanksgiving and remember the Thanksgiving celebrations of her childhood.

Capturing the moments.

Tric is a blogger from Ireland who writes beautifully about the full spectrum of life. I was especially moved by this post today and want to share it with you.

My thoughts on a page.

Growing up most of our photographs were of holidays, birthdays, gatherings or special occasions. If I were to have taken a ‘selfie’ as a teenager, people would have questioned my sanity. Nowadays, I rarely pose or share photos of myself and often forget to take my camera out during special occasions, but that doesn’t mean, I don’t like photos. I do, and rarely a day goes by without my taking at least one. You might be surprised to know, I don’t use a camera to take these photos nor in fact do I tell anyone I am taking them. I do it with the blink of an eye, capturing the moment and filing it away in one of my many albums in the far recess of my mind.

I began to take these photos twenty years ago, when a lovely friend of mine was facing the sad reality that her…

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mostly fossil-free home!

A project that B and I have been working on for years is finally complete. With the installation of a geothermal heating/cooling system, we are able to disconnect our home from the methane infrastructure, which in our area means that we are no longer burning fracked gas from neighboring Pennsylvania in our home. Because we had previously installed a hybrid electric/heat pump hot water heater, our furnace had been the only thing still attached to the gas lines. Now that it is gone, we won’t have to pay for methane, which is relatively low-priced at the moment, or the delivery charges, which are relatively expensive in New York. Those savings will help with our electric bill, which will go up, although our panels in a community solar array generate a good chunk of our electricity. In our region of New York, changing from methane to geothermal for heating is considered a wash in terms of cost, but our air conditioning costs will be much lower with the heat pump than with our outdoor compressor unit.

We have done other projects to make our home more efficient, such as changing to LED lighting and adding more insulation. We use a rechargeable battery-operated lawn mower and electric leaf blower. The only two household things that will still use fossil fuels are our propane grill and our gasoline-powered snowblower, which is only needed a handful of times a year, if that.

We have also cut way back on our use of gasoline for transportation, driving an all-electric Chevy Bolt and a plug-in hybrid electric Chrysler Pacifica. We only use gasoline when we take the Pacifica on longer trips. It gets 30ish miles on battery. When it is running on gas, some of the engine power re-charges the battery, so even when we have no plug-in charge remaining, a quarter to a third of our miles will still be battery powered. It could be even more than that if we are driving on roads with terrain or lots of stop signs/lights because the braking is regenerative, meaning the energy from slowing the car goes toward charging the battery. It’s possible that, as rapid charging stations become more available, we may be able to take longer trips in our Bolt, which would cut our gasoline usage even further. (I know some of you urbanites are wondering why we don’t use mass transit. Unfortunately, our area has almost no mass transit available.)

We have tried to cut down our fossil fuel usage and control our total energy usage as much as is practicable, but I know there is one sector where our carbon footprint will become heavier rather than lighter. I have not been a frequent flyer in my first almost-six decades, but I am likely to be flying several times a year for the foreseeable future. With daughter E and granddaughter ABC’s recent move to London, I see a fair number of airplane flights coming.

The first one will be next month.

silver linings

There are some silver linings of not having a 2-year-old in the house.

  • Not crashing into the gate at the bottom of the stairs while trying to navigate at night
  • Being able to open cabinets without fiddling with a latch
  • Fewer smudges on the windows
  • Not having to juggle vehicles to make sure one with a car seat was available at home for outings
  • Cutting back on energy usage with fewer laundry loads, lights, electronics, etc.
  • Not having to wrestle with doorknob guards on the basement and linen closet doors – they were hard for little hands to open but also for my petite grown-up hands
  • The opportunity to sleep more, although this is only theoretical
  • More flexibility to travel, write, exercise, etc., although this, too, is theoretical
  • A break from watching some part of Moana, which ABC called “Ocean”, and/or Frozen, which ABC called “Snowman”, every day, although I might sneak a peek at them now and then because I appreciate the theme of love of family, especially grandmother/granddaughter and sisters

Of course, I would trade it all in a moment, if I could, although I know ABC is where she needs to be, settling in with her mom and dad and London grandparents and enjoying the amenities that only a big, historic city can provide. We had a chance to videochat with E and ABC over the weekend and to make arrangements to visit in December. It will be exciting to see everyone and all the places they go! It might be a bit too exciting, though, as we will be there for the election on the 12th…