Zen (for real) and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

(*** Language Alert***)

Did you know that dust can trigger a smoke alarm? I didn’t. Until today, that is.

It seemed that it might be a relatively quiet day of hanging sheetrock and getting started on the taping and waterproofing of the joints in the main floor hall bathroom. But, there was one more (please, God, let it just be one more) dirty, dusty job to be done, and I, like the mother of several children who keeps forgetting the excruciating pain of childbirth, once again underestimated the minefield of potential issues that could be encountered. (Not that there was anything to be done to change it, even if I had estimated the issues correctly. Sometimes continued ignorance is better).

Tim began the day as his optimistic Dr. Jekyll-self, filling me in on his objectives, which is always a welcome mental breakfast for my inner project manager. As he talked me through his plan, he realized that before he could start the taping and the floor, he first needed to tackle the doorway to rip it out and make the opening larger. This is because one of the truly annoying elements of the old hall bathroom was the tiny door & doorway, which featured a regular hinged door operating in an opening that was far too narrow for anyone I know to pass through it without somehow coming into contact with it – not terribly surprising given the limitations of the dimensions of the room, but it has to be addressed. We’ll be replacing the hinged door with a sliding barn door, which will be a first, though a better solution in this situation than a pocket door.

After establishing George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass album as the musical backdrop for his preparation and morning travails, a placid, upbeat Dr. Jekyll-Tim got to work hanging the remaining sheetrock. Once that job was done, the door-ectomy commenced, heralded by the all-too-familiar noise and vibration of the Sawzall. 5 – 10 minutes of tooth-chattering tremors later, thinking (fairly reasonably if you ask me) he’d cut through all the critical connective structure, he started trying to pull the door frame/jamb out. Something unseen was holding it in place, and, right on cue to assist in the unexpectedly larger effort, Mr. Hyde announced his arrival, spitting expletives.

I had a call at 10:10, and it was about 10:00, so, I took *my* cue, heeding my “decision-tree” lesson from the other day. While the Sawzall resumed its job, I quietly packed my gear, and crept upstairs to our son Owen’s room (which is uncharacteristically clean in Owen’s absence while he’s finishing his freshman year away at college; and with its desk and position in the house relative to this bathroom project, it therefore makes an excellent surrogate-office for me). A few minutes later (thankfully before the call started), amid the cacophonous duet of the Sawzall and Mr. Hyde’s curses, I was jolted out of my (Owen’s) desk chair by the piercing beeps and digitized monotone warning of “FIRE . . . FIRE” blasting from every smoke detector in the house, including the one that was 12’ away from me on Owen’s ceiling.

Mr. Hyde registered his displeasure (the one on the 7’ 4” ceiling of the rather small downstairs hall outside the bathroom was about 4’ from his ears) by loudly asking-not-asking me over the beeps and dire warnings to come downstairs and help him “cover this fucking thing up with some Saran Wrap or something.” I hurried down the stairs to oblige, asking what happened as I carefully pulled back the dust-infused drop cloth hanging in the doorway between the dining room and the hallway. I had my own question wordlessly answered by the heavy plaster-dust haze that hung in the air. Hmmph! Who knew dust would set off a smoke detector?

I peered surreptitiously around, looking for flames (just in case – you never can be too cautious), then being no more willing to endure that sound than he was, I dashed to the kitchen, retrieved the roll of Press ‘n Seal, and inhaled deeply before ducking back under the drop cloth to hand it to him while holding my breath (to avoid a later side-effect I imagined might turn my lungs into a solid mass of plaster. Work with me on this – it *could* happen. Right?) Meanwhile, he *was* wearing his protective mask with the particulate filters, and I noted to myself as he reached up to cover the smoke detector with the sticky wrap, that his breathing sounded like what would happen if Darth Vader and Mr. Hyde had a baby, accelerated as it was by his aggravation, and further amplified by the mask. I silently buried that observation in that moment, however, waiting quietly while he cocooned the smoke detector, then took the (now spent) box of Press ‘n Seal back to the kitchen.

I re-ascended the stairs thinking the plastic wrap would do the trick, and settled in for my call, which took place without further interruption, though Mr. Hyde, with the timing of a practiced performer, stuck around for just about the call’s exact duration, thankfully muffled by several walls, a floor, a ceiling, and the cellulose insulation between them that had protected us during the 5 winters we had spent without any other insulation above us.

Shortly after my call wrapped up, the All Things Must Pass album gave way to the Concert for Bangladesh, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde were making alternate appearances at about 1-minute intervals as Tim continued the grueling effort of removing all traces of the former door jamb:

*Sound of Sawzall* with shouted (sometimes sung, angrily, in place of song lyrics) “FUUUUUUUUUCK!” (or a variant, i.e., “FUCK YOU, YOU FUCKING FUUUUUCK!) . . .

Silence (after the Sawzall was dropped to the floor with a clunk) followed by happy-sounding whistling or actual singing to “Wah-Wah” or another tune from the album . . .

*Sound of Sawzall* with fuck-laced insults hurled at all surrounding inanimate objects . . .

Over the course of the next hour amid an unending tit-for-tat between The Sound of Sawzall and The Sound of Silence/Singing, it became evident that our clever little Press ‘n Seal remedy was ineffective, with the smoke detector launching into its shrieking serenade, not one, not two, but *three* more times as the door frame was finally dismembered, each instance jerking me rudely out of my concentration.

Very shortly into one of the “silence” moments, after one particularly thunderous interlude by Mr. Hyde and his Sawzall Band, there was a knock at the door, answered by an oh-so-brief “come in!” harmony as Dr. Jekyll overlapped his angry alter-ego and reasserted himself as the dominant personality. Mere seconds after any passerby of sound mind would have seriously considered a call to 911 for domestic assault, Dr. Jekyll-Tim was amicably chatting away with our neighbor Paul, who popped over, perhaps in response to a text from Tim seeking input on planning for the sliding barn door, as if this were the most normal segue in the world.

And around here, I suppose it is.

Welcome to Fire Over Fifty!

Just like me, this site is a work in progress. If you’re a new visitor, here’s a little guidance:

You might want to begin with the first 2 posts, which you can access first here and then here – they provide a bit of the back-story and my objectives for this blog.

If you’re on a mobile device or tablet, you probably see a “menu” link above, which you can click for a listing of the site pages. If you’re on a larger screen, you should see page links across the top of the page.

I’ll be continuing to add content to the various pages over time, and if you’re drawn to one set of content over the others, you can always click on the category at the bottom of the post to see all the posts in that category.

Parenting the Parents, Part III. The Move. And the Aftermath.

Actually, we were beyond relieved that they’d decided so easily to move – it would be so much better to have them closer, to get them set up with doctors who would be more aligned with what they needed, to actually get my dad diagnosed (we still had nothing that was in any way definitive), and to be able to keep a closer eye on them. Within 6 weeks (by Mother’s Day) the condo was theirs, and we’d begun the emotionally draining process of getting them ready to move, which we targeted for late June. Dad was easy – he just rolled along with everything – but it was bumpier with mom, who’d never been very easygoing to begin with. It all finally came together though, and in the meantime, we were able to start lining up doctors for dad here (to give credit where it’s due, “we” was mostly my sister, who has a background in the medical field, and blessedly, offered to take all of that on).

Within a couple of weeks of moving in, Dad had seen a new PCP, had several tests performed, and finally had a clear diagnosis: vascular dementia. He was scheduled to meet with a neurologist who specialized in dementia and Alzheimers and also with a Geriatric Psychiatrist, though the appointment with the neurologist wasn’t until early October, and the appointment with the Geriatric Psych was 3 long months away.

I had been genuinely surprised at how much mom seemed to like the condo while we were getting ready to move them in. The layout, I will acknowledge, was perfect, and the woman who’d owned it previously (or her spouse, or both?) had clearly had some mobility issues, as evidenced by the well-placed grab-bars and the stair-glide chairs leading up BOTH the main staircase and down to the (finished, 1000 square foot) basement. However, mom had a pretty good eye for interior decorating, and there were a LOT of things that I figured she’d hate, and want to change: paint colors, the horrible pinkish Corian kitchen countertops and stock white cabinets, the contractor’s grade faucets and mostly heinous, cheap light fixtures.

At first, these things didn’t seem to bother her, but it didn’t take long before her inability to handle the stress of all the change started leaking out in her annoyance over any number of little issues: how the refrigerator doors would sometimes pop open when you closed one side or the other (it’s one of those “French door” models with the freezer at the bottom. Ironically, it was the exact same kind as she had in her previous kitchen but that was the stainless steel version, and this was the white one). How the freezer drawer sometimes didn’t close all the way. Something with the dishwasher. The oven controls glitching out. How you had to move the handle on the kitchen faucet *just* right to get it to totally turn off. They’d bought a home warranty when they got the place, and we used it. The appliance guy came out. Fixed whatever was wrong with the dishwasher. Turned around the basket in the freezer, which was in backwards and preventing the drawer from closing properly. But man, with every new issue, I’d get an angry phone call, and serious attitude. Everything was shit. She hated this place. She wished she were just dead.

It didn’t help that she was having to pretty much act as full-time caretaker for my dad. He’d been having issues with incontinence for quite some time (not unusual with certain types of dementia), so Depends were a routine item on the shopping list, but there were accidents sometimes, and she’d act as if he were doing it on purpose. Same with the issues with the mail. Why she persisted in handing it to him, despite the results, and me reminding her, every time something would go missing, to Stop. Handing. Him. The. Mail, I don’t know. I had set up a folder for her to put bills and statements when they came in, and I’d come over a few times a week to sort through them. Yet still, she’d hand him stuff sometimes. Part of me thinks she did it knowing there would be issues, but that it would give her another place to channel her anger and frustration.

The visit to the Geriatric Psychiatrist couldn’t get here soon enough.

Sustainable Kitchens?

When I left my corporate job last year, in addition to knowing I needed the time and flexibility to take care of my parents, my one big desire was to launch a business that focused on helping healthcare institutions make the shift in their foodservice operations toward more local sourcing and healthier and more “sustainable” back-to-scratch food preparation (more on the rather loaded word “sustainable” later).

Life, though, has a way of telling you when your focus needs to be somewhere other than where you think you want it, and with everything else I’ve had on my plate (haha) in the past few months, I have to admit that I haven’t been able to spend as much time on pursuing that big desire as I had imagined I would. This makes me feel more than a little sheepish, considering it’s nearly all I talked about for weeks in the advent of, and after I left my job, and I had a bunch of people cheerleading for me. I hope I haven’t lost everyone yet. . .

I did set several goals for myself to attain around this before the end of March, though, and this week I’ve been able to re-focus on them and do a few things to get me back on track. Next week, there will be more. In the same way I committed to myself to getting the first draft of my book completed (done), and getting this blog going (done, if messy), and completing an advanced 13-week investing course (almost done), and getting my parents’ former house cleaned out and sold (done), and getting my grandmother’s house through probate she passed away in October), cleaned out and sold (almost done – closing should be in the next 2 weeks), I can now commit to getting back on the path with this.

Meanwhile, though, let me catch you up to where I *am.* Once I left my job, I dove into research around hospitals and healthcare systems and healthier, more “sustainable,” more local food initiatives. I was beyond excited when I came across a chef named Justin Johnson, based in Wisconsin, who first, had been someone named in one of dozens of case studies I’d read, having transformed the foodservice operations of a hospital in Wisconsin. Then, after he had that hospital’s revamped program up and running successfully, he decided to take what he’d developed there, and build a company around it, with a repeatable “toolkit” that could be applied to any foodservice operation. He called it Sustainable|Kitchens (which I’m going to abbreviate as “SK”). Their model provides the structure to first fully assess a current operation, then, based upon the findings of that assessment, create, and if desired, assist the organization in successfully implementing, a plan to shift the operation to one that sources locally; migrate preparation approaches to “back-to-scratch;” and, in so doing, create a more sustainable operation. (SK, by the way, isn’t just focused on healthcare – they can do what they do for any institution with a foodservice operation).

Now for a word on “sustainability,” the definition of which, for many, focuses on activities that consume less than their output provides back to the environment. Before I connected with Justin, I was one of probably millions of people (maybe you’re one of them, too) who just assumed that making “sustainability”-related changes in operations would be more expensive to organizations who chose to do it than what they’d been doing before. I had been steeling myself for the case that would have to be made to convince organizations that, in spite of this, it was worth it to take the plunge anyway: that the health benefits to patients and staff, the opportunities to engage the community, the great P.R. possibilities, would balance and mitigate any increase in cost. Plus, as one administrator I spoke with during my research told me, it would just feel good, because “it’s the right thing to do.”

To Justin, though, the word “sustainable” *must* include a financial element as well (to be fair, I’m sure he’s not the only one). In other words, making this kind of change has to have positive financial impact, or it will always be in the crosshairs of future “cost-cutting” initiatives, which are a constant concern for healthcare (and most other organizations). Mind? Blown. I mean, duh – of course, as a person who worked for the better part of my corporate career helping clients do things that made them more cost-effective, this made perfect sense, but I hadn’t heard much of it in the world of sustainable food practices.

What Justin and SK had developed was sound. It was proven with multiple organizations over several years, and it was, above all, exciting. I changed my plan, scrapping the idea of creating something on my own, and offered to help him and SK expand their reach here in the Northeast. And for the next month, barring any unforeseen crises, that is going to be my primary focus.

Get a peek here into how SK’s magic works, and see if you think it’s as exciting as I do. If you do, I’d love to hear from you!  https://www.sustainable-kitchens.com/change-food

Bon appetit!!