Friday, July 29, 2011

When it Rains, it Pours...

When something goes wrong, chances are a couple of other problems occur around the same time. The trials make the first event more difficult and stressful than it might otherwise have been.

That describes my past week. There is the good, the bad, and a bit of ugly too.

·         My girlfriend informed me a couple of weeks ago she was to undergo surgery. Brain surgery. When she first told me, I was dumbfounded. I did not know what to say. This was a major, dramatic happening. Everyone--especially her husband and kids--was in turmoil. The surgery was a week ago today and she will eventually be back to her old self. The surgery was successful; now she is nursing a major headache, sore throat, and exhaustion. But she will be back to dance class soon.

·         My mother-in-law is recovering from a stroke. She cannot live alone anymore and we have spent a lot of time researching options and making decisions. We are preparing to move her into an assisted living facility near our home; she lives three hours away near my sister-in-law.  My hub and I spent time this week setting up her apartment and shopping for a few things she will need. She is supposed to leave the rehab hospital tomorrow; my sister-in-law is driving her to her new home. The only problem is that she does not want to go.

·         My son and his family arrived in town last Friday. That is a good thing! The three kids—ages 7, 4, and 10 months—are wonderful, but a lot to handle for Grandma and Grandpa. Luckily, Mom is here too. I do not know how she handles all three of them, especially when alone for a few days at a time when my son travels.

·         My son and his family were not the only guests this week. Our home became infested with tiny ants crawling all over. We called the exterminator, who told us this was a particularly bad year for the ants. The pest control people came this afternoon and the ants are now (hopefully) history.

·         This evening our town broadcast an alert: do not drink the water. A pipe broke and the water may be contaminated with E. coli. Hub bought a case of bottled water at the drug store, as did a host of other locals lined up buying cases of the stuff.

·         The Army Corps of Engineers is conducting a major beach replenishment project that affects our town. Sand is dredged from a channel a few miles north; the channel needs to remain open and deep for large vessels. Our town beach is the recipient of the channel sand. Last weekend—the first weekend my land-locked family was in town to enjoy the Atlantic Ocean—our beach closed because of the project. The kids did enjoy watching the huge machinery. We had to walk or drive several blocks to the closest open beach.  Our beach reopened Monday.
That wraps it up for this week. I am somewhat apprehensive about whatever events develop to enliven next week. I hope that they will be wonderful ones.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Cycling Around Town Visiting Gardens Galore

Our town inaugurated a Garden Tour last year. My girlfriend and I made the mistake of walking house to house. It was fun, but it was July and hot…hot…hot. By early afternoon we found ourselves in the ice cream shop, attempting to cool off and called it quits. We saw about half the gardens.
This year I got smart. I would ride my bike around town. Driving was an option, but a poor one. I could not justify driving a few blocks at a time, attempting to find a parking space, in and out of a hot car all day long. I conned four comrades into joining me – including my hub.
Sometimes it is fun and perhaps necessary to take an entire day to do something different and put aside the worries and responsibilities of the moment. Mother-in-law recovering from a stroke…son’s family of five descending on our small home for three weeks of fun in the sun…work to complete and submit…second son and daughter-in-law due with first baby momentarily…
Early Saturday morning five of us ventured out on our bikes, riding a few blocks to the library where we secured our maps and tickets and were on our way. We decided to start at one end of town and work our way across to the other end. Seventeen gardens were open for our enjoyment.
It was a beautiful sunny day, hot but not unbearable. There was actually a small breeze. We rode the length of the boardwalk to the edge of town to the first garden. We found a surprisingly large garden encompassing the side and back of an early twentieth-century house. Our town has a lot of homes very close together; many have no front yard and/or no back yard or no yard at all. There are a few large homes and yards where, years ago, an affluent family purchased two plots and built a mini-family compound.
I have only recently gotten ‘into’ gardening. We have a small front yard; our small backyard has a deck, one fairly large tree and a triangular patch of pebbles on one side. We bought the house and moved in last year; the pebbles came with the house. This year I placed some potted flowers and tomato plants in that corner; my ambition is to build a tiered vegetable garden in that small patch of what I hope will eventually be green space.
Gardeners are enthusiastic about their works of art – the gardens they have created. We found them talkative and friendly, eager to share information about their successes as well as some of their failures. Some were experts gardening for years; others had only recently attempted to create their personal piece of garden heaven on earth.
We perused an artist’s courtyard decorated with his driftwood and marble sculptures…a wildlife habitat surrounded by trees, flowering shrubs and flowers…a tiki bar amidst a yard set up for Saturday night dance parties…regal old homes with wide front porches offering parched visitors refreshments… gardens with narrow walking paths overflowing with flowering perennials…a home on the water landscaped with potted plants and hanging baskets…
There was plenty of inspiration as well as the feeling of…there is no way I can accomplish anything like this. Our group stopped for a pizza break and successfully completed the entire tour. It took over six hours, but it was worth it. To say our old bodies were tired when we finally arrived back home is an understatement. But we are already planning to repeat the tour again next year.
We can complain because rose bushes have thorns,
or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.
- Abraham Lincoln

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Tables Turned: The Child as Custodian and Caretaker

We read all the time about adult children taking care of their parents. We hear stories from our friends. We offer words of support to friends and relatives dealing with the situation. Then it hits home, and we are right in the middle of coping with the situation ourselves.
Whether because of guilt, inertia, unawareness, passivity, denial or whatever, children frequently do not admit the extent of their parent’s problems. Sometimes the dependency happens slowly; other times a sudden crisis initiates the new relationship. With my mother-in-law it has been a gradual, steady process over the last five years, initially precipitated by a crisis from which she recovered. The past year a slow, steady downward progression that escalated in the past couple of months resulted in a crisis the doctors dub a ‘warning’.
Three siblings attempting to agree on what to do about Mom has been an experience in diplomacy, frustration, estrangement and eventually a complete severing of any relationship between two of them. The one sibling still speaking to the other two acts as an intermediary, an arrangement she is not happy about. This latest crisis has resulted in a meeting of the minds, so to speak, where all three finally agree Mom can no longer live alone. It is time to move Mom – until now in her own apartment – to an assisted living facility.
Did I mention Mom has a definitive mind of her own? She is stubborn, demanding and unhappy. Dealing with her has become difficult, challenging and exhausting. She insists she is independent and wants to remain that way, yet refuses to make herself any meals or eat alone, does not bathe, clean her apartment, do any laundry, shopping or anything else for herself. She has been – until the latest mishap – physically capable, but mentally and/ or emotionally incapable. Her days have most recently consisted of long naps, morning and afternoon, on the couch.
Mom will be fine if she follows doctors’ orders. She is a great candidate for assisted living, although she would never admit it. She says she does not like structured living or want to give up her alleged independence. The irony is that she will be happier and more independent. She will have meals served to her, people to talk to, activities if she wants to participate and medical assistance if necessary. The facility will ensure she takes her meds, which will make her feel and function better. I believe she will have the desire and the strength to participate, once again, in life.
I intend to live forever, or die trying.  -Groucho Marx, comedian (1890-1977)
 If I'd known I was going to live this long, I'd have taken better care of myself.                                      
- Eubie Blake (1883-1983), musician,composer

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Corporate Accountability Awry

I usually do not discuss business or investment topics on this blog; I try to keep a glass ceiling or wall or something between my personal musings and business/investment discussions. But a recent article just about made my blood boil. Everyone should be aware of the absolute chutzpah (I couldn’t think of a better word to describe it) of Transocean management. Business is not always just about business. It is about real people and their communities and the world in which we live. So I hope no one is too bored with the saga of a company interested in nothing other than itself.
An article in this week’s Bloomberg Businessweek – Transocean: No Apologies Over Gulf Oil Spill -relates how Transocean is working very hard (and spending a lot of money) denying any responsibility for the Gulf oil spill. The company is attempting to avoid payments of any consequence as a result of the disaster. The Deepwater Horizon oil rig that exploded on April 20, 2010 was Transocean’s baby.
·         Transocean owned and operated the rig that exploded, resulting in the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history.
·         Nine of the 11 men killed were Transocean employees.
·         Transocean blames BP.
·         Transocean says it made no mistakes.
·         The company has contributed 0 for the cleanup.
·         The company has contributed 0 to the victims’ compensation fund.
·         The company took an accounting gain on its 2010 taxes of $270 million, the difference between the real value of the rig that blew up and the amount received from its insurance company.
·         Transocean declared that – despite the Gulf disaster – 2010 had been “the best year in safety performance in our company’s history”. The company later realized their PR problem with this statement and donated safety-related bonuses to a workers’ memorial fund.
·         Transocean filed a petition with the U.S. government to cap its liability as a result of the oil spill.
·         The company issued $1 billion in dividends in 2010.
·         A Presidential Commission and Coast Guard investigation cites all parties involved as responsible to some extent for the disaster.
Companies have gone bankrupt as a result of lawsuits. On the other hand avoiding and denying responsibility for one’s actions is cowardly, immoral and unethical. It might be legal and the company may get away with it. That does not make it right. It is just one more example of the big guy succeeding at the expense of individuals, the less sophisticated and less organized  – in this case the victims, their families, businesses, local communities and the environment. 
An Observation on Wages
The wage chasm between corporate executives and company workers is another example of the disconnect impacting our society today. A Wall Street Journal article – Pay Tally up 19% for Finance Chiefs - points out CEO compensation increased 24% in 2010. Median CFO (Chief Financial Officer) pay increased 19%. I doubt the CEO and CFO recipients of these hefty increases granted similar pay raises to their employees. A few financial and other companies may have amply rewarded their people, but most workers were not so lucky. Average base pay increases for 2011 are expected to be 2.9%. A growing economy is not solely built on the bonuses of high-paying executives. The rest of the working population needs to participate in a positive way to sustain and grow the economy.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Summer Holiday Weekend Winds Down

We look forward to long holiday weekends, plan activities, hope for good weather, and anxiously anticipate three days of the three R’s: rest, relaxation and recreation. We shop for food if company is coming and pack our things if we are the ones hitting the road. The long-awaited weekend arrives…and before we know it, we are winding down as another ‘regular’ week beckons.
The Fourth of July is a special time of hopefully sunny warm weather, lazy activities with family and friends and beach time, at least in this part of the country. As owners of a beach house we are hosts to the comings and goings of relatives and friends all summer. The Fourth is one of the few holidays actually celebrated on the date and not on a Monday. When the date yields a three day weekend it is an added bonus.
We were lucky enough to experience fabulous weather most of the weekend. There was great food purchased at the local farmers market and delivered by our CSA. Local corn, blueberries, tomatoes and cantaloupe could not have tasted better. Each evening the grill was fired up and hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken, steak and veggies grilled to perfection.
Hub and I may grumble that people do not want to visit all winter – the shore? In winter? Why would we do that? – but appear on our doorstep beginning Memorial Day weekend. And we enjoy every minute. My mother-in-law was dropped off by friends, my niece arrived by train, and my sister drove down. We had friends and family for dinner each night. There were bike rides, walks, ice cream from our favorite stand and plenty of beach time.
The weekend was not without drama. Hub spent one night in the emergency room of the local hospital with a friend who needed treatment for an infected foot. My mother-in-law is a source of constant drama.  She turns 85 ½ on Wednesday—and makes sure everyone is aware of this—and continually laments the fact. She is remarkably healthy but refuses to lift a finger. She rejects any ideas to improve her situation; for instance she wants to move but turns down suggestions for assisted living or even a first floor apartment. She is on a second floor with inside stairs, but has fallen a couple of times in the past year (not down the stairs) and is scared of falling again. She won’t cook or clean or do laundry but refuses arrangements for regular help. Anyway…
Hub and I are exhausted but the weekend would not be complete without fireworks. We will walk down to the boardwalk and watch them explode over the Atlantic Ocean.
If tomorrow all the things were gone I’d worked for all my life,
And I had to start again with just my children and my wife,
I’d thank my lucky stars to be living here today
‘Cause the flag still stands for freedom and they can’t take that away.
I’m proud to be an American where at least I know I’m free…
-Lee Greenwood