AN ORNAMENTAL TASK
On the day after Thanksgiving, just like that, we pass from fall to the Christmas season. Down comes the autumn-hued wreath; up goes the evergreen one with the pine cones and red bow.
My post-feast day is spent decorating the house. This year I cheated by assembling our nine-foot tree and getting the lights in place before Thanksgiving so today I could focus on the ornaments. This year I omitted a couple of standards: No icicles and no bows. I didn’t empty every single carton to fill the tree, but gave it a little breathing room. I also didn’t use too many shiny balls, but instead added quite a few from my herd of sheep ornaments. I’ve collected sheep for 35 years, finally accumulating so many that they outgrew joining the other ornaments on the family tree, and merited a tree of their own.
A few years ago, I stopped putting up the lamb tree but I missed those baaaa-d boys. So this year, I placed some of the 100-plus sheep on the main tree and others around the house in garlands and on shelves. Reggie would dearly love to get her paws on those lamb chops. In fact, she snagged one before I noticed and chewed off its rear end! Brian thought it was hilarious. “She’s a sheep dog disguised as a Boston terrier!” he said.
I didn’t find it humorous.
This year our tree has a new location. We rearranged the room and the tree fits great beside the TV, in front of the stairs. Along with the sheep go decorations that tell the story of our lives. The first ornaments we ever got as a couple were actually gifts to Brian before we were even engaged, Christmas 1977. Brian’s wonderful landlady, the late Mary Snyder, who lived in a lovely old home on Seminary Street in Liberty, next to Orrs and across from the Cohens. She gave him four pewter ornaments hung with the original red yarn. They’ve adorned our tree ever since.
There’s the little pop-cycle-stick sled I picked up at a craft bazaar at Indiana State while a student. There are Santas and angels from office ornament exchanges, tassles from graduation caps, a bat key chain from the Louisville Slugger factory, a glittery peace symbol from a show at the state fairgrounds several years ago, a glass corn ornament because I’m a corn-fed Hoosier farmer’s daughter, the little sign I waved when Sam and Allison left the church as newlyweds that reads “Wahoo!”
At the top of the tree is a topper I got from George Washington’s Mt. Vernon gift shop of a dove, symbolic of The Holy Spirit. There’s a glass ornament that was my mom’s and my brother painted the Brownsville Bridge on it. I love that.
There are other ornaments, too, like the accordion Kathy Thomas found for Brian. (It’s a nod to Brian’s brief hobby as a childhood accordionist. Don’t ask). There are vacation baubles. Almost everything on that tree comes with stories, memories or both.
Outside I hung artificial wreaths on the windows but only after replacing the faded ribbons with new ones.
I hung a lighted garland over a doorway. I filled a couple of baskets with greenery and changed out the kitchen tablecloth.
There is no doubt more that I will do but right now, I’m ready to call it a day in the décor department.
Today is remarkable for something that I do not recall doing in my 57 years of life, except on sick days: I remained in my pajamas all day while decorating. Right now, I’m heading to a tub of bubbles, and a stack of old Christmas decorating magazines I’ve saved for inspiration.
Who knows? Maybe I’ll emerge from the tub really inspired for round two.
THE ENVELOPE, PLEASE
As I paused to shuffle through the daily snail-mail, I noticed a business-sized envelope addressed to us. Brian had opened the rest of the mail, but not this piece. It was from a cremation service.
Nothing says Thanksgiving week like a letter from a cremation service.
I started to open it.
“Oh, I didn’t open that,” Brian said, wanting nothing to do with the message inside.
I was curious. If nothing else, I wanted to see how one might begin a letter inviting the reader to cut a check for services to be rendered. And no, I didn’t mean to spin a pun. It just slid out.
The letter got right to the point with a gentle-ish presentation about making important decisions now. You know, so others don’t have to later and all. Predictable.
But then, attached we were to please find a survey. The cremation service wanted some information so as to personalize their proposal to suit our specific needs (suitable for the balance of our bank account, I take it).
Of course, it wasn’t long before they asked the clincher: What did we plan to pay for a funeral? And for our convenience, numbers were available from which we were to select the amount we have in mind, and circle it. How convenient.
Call me crazy, but I imagine they could come up with a figure that would meet our need.
And if we were so wise as to return the form for our free estimate, they would send us a free gift! Why, it is a planner to prepare for … then.
We aren’t filling out the survey. We’re passing on the free estimate that would meet our needs, and turning down the planner to prepare for … then.
I wonder how many people respond to a mailing like this. Would these be the same folks who don’t ask the price tag on a vehicle, but only the "savings" or the monthly payment? Shiver me timbers.
I wouldn’t mind making final arrangements. Well, it’s not exactly tops on my to-do list, but I have thought about what song I might like played or sung, and that in lieu of flowers, there might be a more creative idea.
Last week I wrote a piece on the NOVEL IDEA of a New Castle woman. Her husband had been an avid reader and lived out his final months in a nursing home in town.
When he passed, she asked people to bring gently used books to the funeral home instead of sending flowers. They did, and those who couldn’t make it sent money for more books and bookcases in which to hold them. That nursing home now has a library in the good man’s memory.
A close friend of ours is donating her body to Indiana University Medical School. I like that idea. I like it a lot.
Brian says he wants to be cremated. But that doesn’t mean he’s ready to fill out that survey. I suppose the day will come when we’re ready to commit. But we won’t be the ones beginning the conversation about what we expect to pay.
Kicking the bucket is not like kicking the tires. But then again, how do I really know?
What I do know is that I am thankful for being above ground, for family, and friends, and freedom to believe what I believe, to bake Blaise Doubman’s Hoosier Cream Pie later today and for a God in heaven who reigns over heaven and earth no matter the chaos around us.
And if you are reading my blog today, I am thankful for you too—more thankful than you know. Happy Thanksgiving friends.
OMBUDSMAN: A FANCY WORD FOR ADVOCATE
While the tone of this blog is generally light-hearted, it’s also a place to share and possibly help others.
I was just thinking about something that happened in November several years ago where government worked quickly and smoothly – so quickly and smoothly, in fact, that I still shake my head in awe.
A loved one was in a nursing home. One evening, while Brian and I drove home in driving rain from an outing, Brian's cellphone rang. A nursing home official was calling to inform us that there was a problem with our loved one’s medications. Oh, the meds were working fine, that wasn’t the issue.
The problem was that the pills, which were provided to the nursing home via a mail-order drug provider required by our loved one’s insurance company, came in an assortment of mega bottles. The person at the nursing home who dispensed the meds had to unscrew each bottle and it was, well, a hassle.
We were advised by the official – let’s call her, I don’t know –how about Nurse Ratched, that we needed to provide the pills in individual packaging so that said pills could be dispensed in a more efficient manner. Further, she alluded, if we failed to do that, they could no longer accept the meds as provided. And, by the way, perhaps we could simply have the nursing home use its preferred medication provider.
As we drove home in the rain, our moods were gloomy as well. We considered how to proceed. What should we do? Well, we would begin by calling the loved one’s insurance provider the next day and see if they would send the pills in the single-serving packages that the nursing home could “pop out” for convenience. We called and the answer was no. They could not do that.
More phone calls were made to local pharmacies. Unusual question, we began, but if we brought in meds from our loved one’s insurance-approved provider, could a secondary pharmacy repackage them the way the nursing home wanted?
One pharmacist might be able to help, for a sturdy fee, of course.
We were in the midst of a mess. What could we do? At this point, I had not even considered that it was a matter of consumer rights.
Because I work for a newspaper, due to press releases, I have long known about LifeStream Services, a government-funded, non-profit agency that provides services and programs for seniors and people with disabilities. It’s a resource center that serves east-central Indiana. People living in other areas of the state or nation have other similar agencies under various names.
I called LifeStream, reaching out for guidance. I told the receptionist our dilemma and that if we had to drop our loved one’s insurance carrier, the meds would not be covered and would go from excellent coverage to none–all to suit the whim of a nursing home with its “policy” that meds be provided in single-serve packaging for the convenience of employees.
“You need to speak with our ombudsman,” said the receptionist.
Ombudsman? The only other time I had heard this term was in an article I read about a large newspaper with a staff ombudsman whose job was that of a “go-between” for the public and the paper to work out problems. I looked up the definition for the unusual term and it said: public advocate.
Naturally, the ombudsman was not in when I called the agency. However, I didn’t know how much time I had to spare before the nursing home pulled the plug on the meds we had already provided. So, I left as succinct a message as possible, complete with names of people involved and of the nursing home as well as phone numbers for all.
I figured I might or might not hear back from this mysterious ombudsman.
We weren’t home when the message was returned, but it was the next day or at the most, two. I could not believe my ears. The phone message from the ombudsman was this: I have checked into your problem, and there is nothing wrong with the way you are providing the medications for your loved one. I have informed the nursing home that you will continue providing the meds as you have been, and they will be using them as provided. In fact, the nursing home said there was surely a misunderstanding and that of course, they would be happy to keep using those meds, and there was no problem.
Very. Interesting. We were elated.
We never heard another peep about this issue.
It took some nighttime tossing and turning, concerned that we were about to see our loved one go from good coverage to thousands of dollars out of pocket a month if we had no other choice. It took frantic calls to the insurance providers and other possible parties that could help with this situation. It took some digging. Fortunately, we hit upon an agency with a state-provided ombudsman that could help us.
Here is the broader issue that infuriates me:
What about the elderly spouse of a similar loved one in a similar situation who doesn’t know his or her rights – we didn’t – but more, doesn’t know where to turn to figure them out, and even more than that, doesn’t want to make anyone mad or rock any boat. I could very well see such a spouse forking over the extra cash just to keep the peace. I could see such a spouse doing without things she needs such as food or her own meds to keep her loved one in the good graces, so to speak, of the institution.
Many folks in my age bracket have loved ones of their own who are in nursing homes. They need to know that the state of Indiana provides ombudsmen, free to the individuals needing them, to help them figure out just this kind of situation. If you or your loved ones have an issue, consider contacting an ombudsman. It’s a big name for what we found was simply a helpful person who knows your rights even when you don’t. He or she is undaunted in getting to the bottom of a problem that can seem overwhelming – but just might not be, after all.
If you need such help, Google LifeStream Services, Council on Aging or state ombudsman for service providers in your area.
And yes, I did make direct contact with the ombudsman after this incident to thank her. I let her know how very much she was appreciated.
FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS
When a prospective pet owner goes to look at six-week-old puppies in the owner's favorite breed, declares before leaving the house, “We’re just going to look,” but stops at the bank on the way, what are the odds that the person will return home without a dog?
Reggie came home with us about a year ago.
What were we thinking? Oh, she was plenty cute, and sweet, and cuddly. But potty training in December? We were nuts. It was a rough December, and January, and February.
She was tiny and it was cold. So of course she didn’t want to take her business outside.
In dismay, after hearing and reading a variety of ideas, I told the vet about our troubles. He said he knew exactly what to do to get her housebroken. It required a trip to the crafts store and a buck.
The vet said to buy a couple of inexpensive crafters’ bells. Hang them on a string. Tie the string to the door with the bells at doggie eye-level. Whenever we take the dog outside to potty, touch her paws to the bells so she hears them jingle. She’ll come to associate the noise with the result we were after. I thought this sounded like an exercise for gifted dogs, and didn’t figure that Reggie qualified. But it was worth a dollar.
But then, gradually … could it be?
The first few times I heard the faint jingle coming from the back door, it was so soft and brief that I wondered if wishful thinking was playing tricks on me. The trouble at first was that she wouldn’t wait for us to get there – she would go on the laminate floor after she rang!
Brian didn’t believe that our dog was a ringer. But the jingle got louder, and Reggie even started waiting for us to get there after moving the bells with her nose (not her paws, as was the original plan).
Now a year old, Reggie’s not foolproof and we don’t let her have run of the house when we’re gone, but rather place her in her crate. She’s also over getting me up at night to potty. Guess that comes with age -- hers and mine. I’m now more likely to awaken her from my nighttime bathroom trips.
But she does pretty well. She rings that bell when she has to go. And now, we can answer this question with confidence: For whom does the bell toll? It tolls for wee.
IT"S HOW WE ROLL
I stood half way up the stairs as the installer released the gigantic roll of carpeting. It spilled across the bare floor, revealing a wave of swirling texture in shades of brown and beige.
“You don’t like it, do you?” the man said.
“I have to like it,” I said. “I’m going to live with it for a long time.”
For sure, anyway, I had to convince myself that the carpet was likable. I mean, we picked it out, didn’t we? And paid a large chunk of money. There was no turning back. The truckload of berber was cut and ready to go down in three bedrooms, one family room, the upstairs bonus room and the staircase on which I was standing.
That was a dozen years ago.
Our main objective in selecting that carpeting was that it “not show dirt or stains.” The secondary goal was that it “not be the pinkish-off-white color” of the flooring it replaced, inherited from the previous homeowner.
And while we accomplished both those goals in spades, we failed in another matter. The installer was right: We didn’t much like it.
A sample, even a big one, like the one we borrowed from the store, was nothing compared to an entire house full of the stuff.
Now there are worn spots that I try to hide with strategically placed throw rugs. There are stains that won’t come out with a cleaning so are treated with more throw rugs.
“I hate throw rugs,” Brian says. “Let’s get new carpeting.”
So today we shopped. We’re steering clear of sculpted swirly patterns, avoiding berber or a color scheme that resembles pebbles on a park path.
Brian says all carpeting is brown: “Dark brown, light brown, medium brown, mixed brown.” He’s kind of right. There are token additional colors for show but 99.3 percent of the samples are brown. Good thing that's what we want, anyway, as does apparently everyone else.
Of course, there are many other decisions to make concerning weaves, weights, nylon or polyester. Nylon wears and cleans better, we’re told by two different salespersons in two different stores, but one says that the exception would be a higher grade poly. I haven’t even touched on the topic of pads. There’s a lot to be said on that issue too, but I’ll save it for some bedtime reading if I can’t sleep tonight.
After much consideration over every tone and tone variation, we narrowed the search to one group of about 600 on display.
“How long will it last?” Brian asked the saleslady.
Perhaps 25 years came the answer. At least for one group we considered.
“I’ll be in the ground by then,” he replied. That will definitely cut down on foot traffic.
We’ll probably order it on Friday.
And it will be a brown. Somewhere between medium and dark brown -- really more of a mixed brown, when you get right down to it.
They came from New York, Wisconsin, Chicago, Ohio, Kentucky, from all over Indiana, and probably from a bunch of other places besides. Like at other writing conferences I’ve attended, they came burning with stories to tell, and questions about how to get those stories in print.
It was the Anderson University Faith and Writing Conference, an annual gathering of writers looking for many things: that unlikely big break with an agent or publisher, direction on how to publish their work, tips on marketing, inspiration from speakers, and lots of networking and sharing what works – and what doesn’t – with each other.
By far the best keynote speaker of the weekend was the songwriter Gloria Gaither (think classic hymns, southern gospel, and her lovely standard, Because He Lives). Gloria was inspiring with her message that it’s all His story, and we play a part in adding to that story with our writing and our lives. Gloria has also written numerous books and I got to meet her following her speech.
I debated with myself: Would it be silly to gift her a copy of my book and a biz card? Well, why not? I thought, and handed her both, adding that if there was ever anything I could do for her, let me know.
She perked up and asked if I had a B & B. Only on paper.
The best workshop I attended was on leveraging a social-media platform. I learned some things I need to change and tweak, especially before my marketing campaign gets under way for book number two next year.
Another workshop was an exercise in writing about scripture. The presenter, herself a poet, had us select a passage and then take five minutes to write about it using a personal-life application. I was a bit astounded with the result. This could be a great activity for a life group of Sunday school class.
Probably what I liked best about the weekend was the constant networking with those around me. Again and again, I asked the simple question, “What do you write?” and the answers were as varied as were the people there, and included, just from my sample pool: a Methodist pastor who writes about a character she calls Pastor Elle, with two books in this series in print; a high-energy Wisconsin mom there to pitch her young adult book; a woman from southern Indiana who wants to share her story of a troubled life now on the right path.
Another Hoosier had a compelling tale of how she began life rescued from a trash bin. A refined New York widow has written 83,000 words on her life growing up on an Illinois farm and wonders how she can get down her word count.
Yes, they are all a part of His story.
One woman I chatted with cringed over the idea of self-promotion. She wondered how to even start. I told her what I’ve done and she interrupted me to go put her coat in the car.
Another woman recognized me from a signing. “I have your book,” she said. And we became fast colleagues. She has a story-line regarding a tale of corruption based on a true story. I hope it sees print. Still another, from Winchester, used to have my pastor as her pastor!
I went home at the end of the two-day conference wiped out. So many ideas, people, and thoughts streaked across my mind, teamed with the need to work on a Bible Study Fellowship lesson I was behind on, not to mention normal household chores. So I did the only responsible thing: I went to bed. It was only 9. Or 8. Brian had already set our clocks back for the time change.
The next day was Sunday and I had an interesting surprise pop up on my Sweetland Facebook page. It was a message from the Pastor Elle author, Doris Aldrich Smith. She had gone home from the conference, downloaded my book, and had it read already. That, despite the fact she had run off bulletins and preached on Sunday.
I'm such a slacker.
I told her I plan to return the favor and so my next pleasure-reading Kindle book will be Pastor Elle in Wedding Stilettos.
WHAT IS A PROPYLAEUM?
During last December's Indiana Historical Society Author Fair, Elizabeth Turner paused at my table long enough to buy a book, snag a biz card, and mention that she was with the Indianapolis Propylaeum, and might just be interested in having me in for a program.
That’s just the comment an indie author hopes to hear. In fact, it doesn’t much matter how many books you sell at any one venue as long as someone there wants to book you for the next one that might be even better.
I had all but forgotten about our brief encounter until many months later, an email arrived inviting me to be part of the foundation’s author series, Pages at the Prop. Would I be interested? She obviously doesn’t know that I am a "yes ma’am." If asked, I say yes.
But what is a Propylaeum? It sounded, well, fancy. And it is.
I didn’t want to leave the experience of presenting a program there behind without sharing about this lovely historical-and-cultural masterpiece at 1410 N. Delaware Street in downtown Indy. I didn’t previously even know it existed.
Brian went with me, and we had an entertaining visit with Pages Co-Chair Diane Tolliver before the program began. What a fantastic hostess! She took such an interest that I felt as though I had found a new friend.
So Brian, being Brian, cut to the chase and asked Diane: What is a Propylaeum? She was glad he asked. It is the Greek word for gateway. It was selected as the name in 1888 for a cultural, literary and educational foundation to serve the public, and in particular, the women of Indianapolis.
For a time, the Propylaeum was at the present site of the World War Memorial Plaza. There, an assortment of women’s groups used the facility for a variety of gatherings. But it had to move when the city claimed the site for the war memorial you see today.
So in 1923, the Propylaeum bought the Delaware Street property it’s on now, and moved in the next year. Its Carriage House was the first location for the Children’s Museum. The house itself was built by beer baron John Schmidt. His father came to Indy from Germany to build a brewery.
Later, founder of the Indianapolis Star owned the house, and still later, another brewer and businessman named Joseph Schaf. The home was also home of the College of Music and Fine Arts, which became the Jordan College of Fine Arts at Butler University.
Yes, the property has quite a history.
Some of the architecture includes a veranda featuring Romanesque limestone columns,Georgian entrance doors, and an overall Queen Anne appearance. It's believed that the Propylaeum is the only remaining example in Indy of this particular architecture, which includes an irregular hip roof and chimney pots.
Rockwood pottery tiles in the fireplaces, a ballroom and servants’ quarters on the third floor, a slew of bedrooms on the second floor, and several lovely meeting rooms on the first floor, complete the décor. Charming.
And, the home can be rented by the public for social occasions. Just call 317-638-7881 for, as the brochure says, “the gateway to a classic experience.”
Now we know what the Propylaeum is. And I thank those caretakers of it today for allowing me the privilege of being a part of it for one lovely October evening.