Sunday, December 25, 2005

Christmas Day

We woke up and had another small Christmas with Evelyn and Gene. Gene is doing better - so the family has decided to let them have a chance to stay independent.

We leave Amarillo around noon on Christmas Day. We've never travelled on Christmas Day before. While there are gas stations open - restaurants were pretty much all closed. In Amarillo, the only thing open was a sitdown Sushi restaurant. Since we got off around lunchtime for our 8 hour drive to Breckenridge - we got things at the convenience gas station to get us started. The gas stop at Clayton (with so much closed, I was not taking any chances of running out of gas!) provided meaty burritos. And another convenience store in Colorado Springs provided the low carb energy bars that have been a staple on my low-carb diet.

We get to Breckenridge in time to hit another convenience store to have breakfast items - cereal, milk, juice, etc.

Because of Gene's illness, we did not know whether we would make it to Breckenridge this winter. But as we drop into Breckenridge from Hoosier Pass - it feels like we are coming home.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Christmas Eve

We arrived in Amarillo on the 23rd. When we saw Gene first thing Christmas Eve morning, we knew we were headed to the emergency room. His left eye was swollen like a tennis ball to the point he could not open it. A call to the physician on call led us to the hospital emergency room in case complicated tests were necessary.

The hospital was quiet on Christmas Eve. I went to the coffee shop to get coffee (and hot chocolate for Henry) all around while we waited for Gene to be seen. We were fortunate that the diagnosis was either an allergic reaction or the beginning of shingles. We got in early, were seen quickly, and were ready to leave by the time everyone had drunk their coffee. Definitely a blessing to get Gene back home rather than have another hospital stay at Christmas time.

Our niece, Staci, had a wonderful Christmas party for the whole family. While we have not made a practice of going to Amarillo for Christmas, there is something very special to be surrounded by loving family and friends at Christmas. I will have some good memories from this Christmas.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Christmas Cards on the Road

We only stayed in the Austin area a few days. We went by the Hubbard Museum of the American West to see my photos that made the exhibit. Then we spent four days at Bosque del Apache. We explored three other lesser known wildlife refuges in New Mexico.

But I knew that it was time to get the Christmas cards printed and delivered. I had done the preliminary designs in Amarillo. When we were in Austin we packed up the printer and the extra ink cartridges. One of the evenings at the Bosque I started printed out the cards. But, unfortunately, I ran out of a couple of colors of ink. So the next day at the mid-day break from photography we went back to Socorro where we were spending the night. We drove all around town looking for the office supply store we had located on the web. Turned out it was on the square. It was a cute little store with a little bit of everything. My printer requires 8 different colors of ink. They had two colors - not enough demand to stock all the colors. Naturally they were not the colors I needed. The other small complication in the first print run were some strange yellow spots. ARGHHH! But I did get enough printed to get one batch mailed off in Socorro.

When we drove through Albuquerque, we found the Office Depot near the interstate, and I stocked up. That night in the Comfort Inn in Las Vegas, we hauled all the stuff up the stairs to our room. And began the print process again. This time I was successful in getting all the cards printed and mailed off in Las Vegas.

And, for those that want to know, this Santa is VERY special - my kids know their daddy is the REAL Santa Claus!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

A Photographer's Winter Morning

Early morning is a special time. Symbolically it is the start of a new day. While I am not a "morning" person, sunrises are worth getting up for. As a photographer, getting to your photographic spot well before dawn is important. Part of the experience is seeing the world turn from a dark, black and white place in a crescendo of brilliant colors. That first hint of glow in the east is a promise of a new beginning. And the sky joyfully gets brighter and brighter until the glory of the sun finally breaks the horizon in a golden burst.

The early morning is also a good time to view animals. We had a chance to go back to Bosque del Apache in New Mexico. In the winter months thousands of snow geese, sandhill cranes, and other water fowl migrate here to spend the winter. Arriving at the refuge before dawn allows one to experience these beautiful creatures' morning rituals.

The snow geese stay together in flocks of several thousand. They come and go in a noisy group of powerful, beating wings and loud, honking calls. This year they seemed to make one initial move before dawn filling the sky in the distance with beautiful white graceful V-shaped lines. So our first task each morning was to discover which pond they had chosen. Our first morning was the coldest, the ponds had a layer of ice. We found many of the snow geese asleep on top of the ice. The beautiful golden rays of the rising sun gave them almost a heavenly lighting. It was fun to watch them wake up, go through their morning grooming rituals, and then doze off again, floating in the water with their heads tucked under their wing.

As a photographer, I wanted to capture their incredible take off. I discovered that you do have a few moments warning. Something will startle them, they all begin honking. Sometimes it is a false alarm and they settle back in to splashing and grooming. But other times, that caucophony of sound is the signal, and they all leave the pond at once.

Each day I positioned myself in a different place to try to capture the magic of thousands of birds in close proximity taking to the air at once. I tried slow shutter speeds to catch an artistic blur and I tried faster shutter speeds to get sharp details on each bird.

The sandhill cranes have a total different morning regimen. The frantic flight of the geese leaves them undisturbed. The cranes leave for the feeding grounds in family groups of two to five. They run across the ice or water in order to gain enough momentum for flight.

There are also signs to watch for to be prepared to capture their take off. You will see a group begin to stretch their necks out together in one direction. It is almost as though they have to psyche themselves up. If you are patient and quick with your shutter finger, you can catch them in the act of running and slipping clumsily on the ice before they are finally airborne in an incredible graceful flight. Because so many congregate on the ponds, you have plenty of opportunities to practice your panning and your eye-hand coordination to capture their beauty and grace.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Independent Living

It is a natural desire to be independent. Two year olds express their indepence as they use the word "NO." High school kids can hardly wait to turn 18 - longing for indepence from their parents. They have to learn that being fully responsible for themselves can be challenging. And they make mistakes-and learn from them, and continue to grow and develop.

When people live long enough, they reach what we sometimes call the "declining years." As a culture we value independence, taking care of ourselves. Especially for people who lived through the depression years, being independent and not needing "help" is an important part of their self-esteem. But old age robs us of many dignities - and independence is one of them. Role reversal is difficult for both generations. For the aging, it is difficult to admit that you don't remember well enough, you don't see well enough, and you don't hear well enough. We have a mental image of ourselves - an idealized one - where we can do everything needed. But sometimes the reality is that age has robbed us of some abilities that we had when we were younger.

For the caregiving generation, it is difficult to know how to handle some things. My mother-in-law, Evelyn, so much wants to be able to do everything herself. And she has always been a capable, hard working individual. But at this period, she is up several times during the night with Gene. It is hard for her to remember all the things that are on the caregiving schedule for Gene. And the schedule is complex - first thing in the morning, blood sugar reading, one pill before breakfast, breakfast, 9 more pills, using the vital signs monitor, something that resembles a bath, shaving, lunch, mid-afternoon pill, supper, after supper pills. Not to mention, getting shoes on his feet, foot massages, keeping the feet propped up, therapeutic exercise, deep breathing, monitoring the fluids he gets during the day, and following a diet restricted by so many physical problems.

My quandry today is how much should I just do the things to keep things optimal for Gene's possible recovery and how much should I step back and see how much Evelyn is actually capable of doing. Are my assumptions incorrect, can she really do more than I think? (They did better using the monitor this morning than I expected - I left them alone to see what would happen.) If I let her do all of it for several days, will she get too tired? I truly don't want to hinder her ability to care for herself in the long run, and yet, I know that the physical care for Gene at this point has the potential to ruin the good health she has now. It would be easier if they were not fretting because they feel like they are imposing on us. It would be easier if they had had more realistic goals concerning their old age. They truly intended to take care of themselves until the very end in their own home without involving their children in their care. A noble goal, but very few people are lucky enough to achieve that.

How do you communicate these issues, how do you help them understand that this is the natural cycle of life, how do you help them come to terms and be fully at peace?

While I was beginning this entry, Evelyn came in. I had a chance (once again) to try to talk with her about some of these issues. We both had tears in our eyes.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005


Well, we've been here in Amarillo 3 1/2 weeks now. We've settled into a routine that seems to be working. I'm trying to do three meals a day with fresh fruits and vegetables. So far I've been pretty good about sticking with my diet (except for Thanksgiving Day). I weighed at Curves last week and it looks like I've lost 5 lbs since I got here.

I have always believed that every age has its challenges. I remember when my kids were babies - and everyone thinks babies have it so easy - because everything is taken care of for them. But some of my friend's babies had colic - that is NOT easy. Infants get sick and can not tell you where it hurts. Teething is painful and makes them fretful. Learning to walk is also a challlenge- toddlers fall down many times before they get the hang of walking. The twos and fours are times of learning to assert oneself and still learn the discipline of obedience. The school years bring the joys of friendship and the pain of rejection. My kids are now in their young adult years where they are establishing their own patterns for living - which is another set of challenges.

Here with Evelyn and Gene, I'm getting to watch again the frustrations of aging. The other day Gene told me he had some advice for me: "Don't let yourself get old." While we laughed together, the sad reality is that if we are fortunate to live long enough - we WILL get old. There are things we can do along the way to take care of ourselves - like we maintain our cars - diet, exercise, mental exhertion. But there are so many other factors we have no control over - our genetics, accidents, the illnesses we have- that make each person's old age different. My inlaws were active people - when they first bought the lake house, they had a big garden, they took the boat out on the lake, they walked to and from my sister-in-law's house. But with each passing year, activities began to slow down. They walk slower, they don't try to do as much. It is a gradual process.

How will I fare in old age? I'm already telling my daughter some things for her to remember when I get there. I hope that I can maintain a good attitude, minimize the complaining, and be cooperative with what my children think. My inlaws have set a good example - they face each day and take them as they come.

We are in good spirits for the most part. Right now Gene seems to have a good day and then the next day he doesn't seem as well, and then he'll have another good day. Today started out as a "bad" day because he fretted about something over night and did not get much sleep. However, this evening he surprised us big time by coming out on his own to the den where Henry and I were. He spent 30-45 minutes visiting with us out there. He was not even huffing and puffing when he got there. Definitely a count your blessings moment.