Monday, June 30, 2008


It seems as if, just when we’ve turned our independent children out on their own, we welcome two new family members back into the flock—our grandchildren and our parents. Like many others of my Baby Boomer generation, my husband and I are seeing our once vibrant parents age, fall ill, and become dependent on us like we once were on them.

When Tom’s mother became bed-ridden, we didn’t have a clue what to do to help her. She was eager to return to her own comfortable and familiar home, so we hired an LVN to come in every day to see to her needs. But when that became too much for even the experienced worker, we moved Mary to a nearby care facility with a home-like setting. Eventually, due to her increasing health issues, she had to enter a full-care nursing facility. The whole process was confusing, overwhelming, expensive, and heartbreaking. We simply weren’t prepared for this stage of our lives and our parents’ lives.

Luckily, we’ve discovered A Place for Mom, thanks to Maureen Johnston, a woman who seems to have been born with a smile on her face. Maureen had worked in real estate for years before deciding she wanted to do something more meaningful with the second half of her life. Like us, she and her husband Rob had been through a similar experience with Rob’s mother, Bobbie. “Bobbie suffers from a form of dementia,” Maureen said, “so I began by hiring caregivers. But none of them lasted long because she couldn’t get along with them. Plus, it was eating up her bank account.”

They moved Bobbie from home care to assisted living, but when she broke her hip, her dementia worsened and she was moved from the hospital to a lockdown rehab facility. “That was a shock,” Maureen said. “She kept saying ‘Get me out of here!’ We finally found a residential care home in Danville. After I learned about A Place for Mom, we found out about hospice. Now she has weekly medical care, RN visits, a social worker, and a spiritual adviser, all free from Medicare.”

Through her experiences finding the right place for her mother-in-law, Maureen also found she enjoyed working with elderly people. “I love talking with them. They just come to life. And the stories you hear are amazing. One 93-year-old lady was a Holocaust survivor who kept talking about her baby. Her neighbor said she’d had an eight-month-old baby that was taken from her then. One day I bought her a baby doll and she hugged it with tears in her eyes. Now she sleeps with it.”

Once Bobbie was settled, Maureen trained for a position at A Place for Mom. She now has a list of services in the Valley. After finding out what the needs are—everything from how much money they want to spend to what kind of facility they need—she tries to match them with the right place. “I do get personally involved sometimes and it often affects me. But there’s as much joy as sorrow, and I get a lot of nice emails from the families I’ve helped.”

It’s not too late for us to call Maureen at A Place for Mom and see what else might be available for Mary, such as hospice care. And if you need her help with finding eldercare options for your aging parents, you can contact her too. She’s especially good at putting a smile on a face that’s been missing one.

Maureen Johnston can be reached at A Place for Mom, 866-633-7856 or at

Sunday, June 22, 2008


It seems like only a short time ago I was glaring at people who talked on their cell phones in public places—at restaurants, in cars, walking down the street. Were their conversations really so important, they needed to talk RIGHT NOW? At the time, I wrote them off as not only inconsiderate, but show-offs: “I have a cell phone and I’m important.”

Of course, now that I have one, it’s different. I need it. I don’t know how I got along without it. There have been so many times I’ve needed to know what video to rent RIGHT NOW, whether we need milk RIGHT NOW, or if that’s you in the car ahead of me RIGHT NOW.

I’m not alone. Now it appears as if everyone has a cell phone—even toddlers. You can’t live here in the Valley without seeing nearly every other person chatting away on an iPhone, Blackberry, or other form of wireless communication. I mean, when was the last time you saw a phone booth? (“Yes, Virginia, that’s what we used to use to call our friends. No, it doesn’t text.”)

So now that I find the device indispensable, the powers that be don’t want me to use it any more—at least in the car. Hey, that’s where many of us in the area spend half our time. Yes, it’s annoying to see other drivers yakking on the phone and not paying attention to the road, but I’m not one of them. I can multi-task. I can listen to the radio, talk on the phone, apply lip balm, check my teeth in the rearview mirror, and think up column ideas all while driving down the street. I’m surprised not everyone else can.

But my husband doesn’t possess this skill.Tom can’t even listen to a book on tape while driving. One time, while listening to Harlan Coben, he ended up in Santa Cruz when he meant to go to Palo Alto. He’s worse when he talks on the phone. He drives 35 in the fast lane, stops at green lights, and forgets to turn off his blinker for days. Granted, he shouldn’t talk on the phone at home either. That’s when he’s most apt to put the milk in the cupboard, leave the coffee maker on, and forget to put lettuce in the salad.

But holding the phone in his hand has nothing to do with it. And that’s why this new law isn’t going to work. Being hands-free isn’t the problem, for those who need to be brain-free. Think about it. I can still dial, check my email, send a text message, take a picture of the ducks crossing the street in front of my car, scan for an iTune, blog my latest news, check my MySpace site, or watch a YouTube video.

Isn’t that a lot more dangerous than holding something to your ear? Come to think of it, isn’t fumbling around for a Bluetooth or plugging in an earphone or trying to find the speakerphone volume even worse? If we lose the freedom of hand-held car-speech, what’s next? Pretty soon we won’t be able to put on makeup, shave, play the air guitar, change into a new outfit, or eat cereal while we drive. I say, call your representative today.

From your cell phone.
While you’re driving.
Before July 1st, that is.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Summer is nearly here: Do you know where your grandson is?
Apparently I don’t, at least not all the time. And I’m not alone. According to statistics I found on “,” 2,000 kids are lost every day, and at least 90% of parents will lose a child once. Summer is the most common time parents—and grandparents—are likely to lose their children—27% at amusement parks and 45% at shops or malls.
Like Target. That’s where I lost my three-year-old grandson the other day. I’d just turned my head for one second—one second!—to tell my daughter-in-law Sue that I’d watch Bradley while she finished shopping. By the time I turned back, my grandson had disappeared. Last seen: Heading down the sporting goods aisle.
I didn’t panic. I just told myself he’d turned the corner, as I sped down the aisle like a racecar driver. No sign of Bradley. My heart kicked into hyper-speed as I bolted for the toy department, certain I’d find him there. But after a thorough search of the Thomas the Train aisle, the Pirates of the Caribbean aisle, even the Barbie aisle, I knew I’d lost him.
Apparently the look of hysteria was clear on my face from twenty feet away. A clerk folding clothes in the men’s department called out, “Do you need some help?” Near tears, I nodded. “I’ve lost my grandson!” Before I could burst into real tears, the clerk clicked on a tiny intercom attached to her ear and spoke into a miniature microphone: “Code Yellow.”
In the blink of an eye (about the time it takes to lose a little boy), I was surrounded by red-vested Target employees who had been alerted to my predicament via their “walkies.” “Lock down!” another clerk said into his mic. In seconds clerks from all over the store swarmed the floor, all looking for “a three-year-old boy in an orange shirt.” Minutes passed. Still no sign of Bradley.
While clerks continued searching, I returned to the spot where I’d last seen my grandson—sporting goods. Puzzled as to how he could have disappeared so quickly, I glanced down the aisle carefully this time, finally focusing on a row of bicycles against the far wall. There, nearly hidden in the myriad tire spokes, I caught a glimpse of bright orange. I moved closer, straining to see between the camouflage of bikes. Sure enough, tucked behind a bike wheel, was my little grandson. Playing hide and seek.
“Bradley!” I squealed, pulling him out from his hiding space. I should have known. He loved playing hide and seek. This had all been a game to him. “I found him!” I shouted to the red-vested employees who were still searching the area.
“Cancel Code Yellow,” the clerk in charge announced into his walkie. I thanked the smiling workers as they returned to their positions, while holding a bewildered Bradley in a visor-like bear hug. It was probably pointless to tell him how he shouldn’t play hide and seek at the store and how worried I was that I’d lost him and how much everyone had been looking for him. He’s only three. But at my age, I should have known better than to let go of that little hand, even for one second.
Luckily, Target—and many other stores like it today—have implemented this new system of protecting children when their parents or grandparents take them shopping. Good thing—for Bradley and me. Although maybe Grandma needs to be kept on a leash.
Remember the Bickersons? Probably before your time. Mine too, actually. But my mother had recordings of the world’s most argumentative couple, voiced by Don Ameche and Frances Langford, and I loved listening to their witty repartee.
Unfortunately, after 38 years of marriage, my husband and I have become the Bickersons. At least when we’re in the car.We recently took a road trip to Los Angeles. Why, in this day and age, would we drive to the land of “swimmin’ pools and movie stars” when we could fly for less than the current price of a tank of gas and arrive in less than two hours? Books. That’s why.
We had passes to the annual Book Expo Show, where hundreds of publishers give out their future best-selling tomes to anyone with an outreached hand. Unlike a pharmaceutical expo where you get free notepads and pens with drug logos, or computer shows where you end up filling your plastic Mac bag with free mouse pads and geek shirts, at Book Expo, you get books. Mystery books. Picture books. Biographical books. Comic books. Literary books. Reference books. Most importantly: Free books.
Unfortunately, in order to haul nearly a zillion pounds of heavy books back home, we had to take our gas-guzzling VW camper and drive the long and winding road. We were barely out of the driveway before we turned into the Bickersons. No subject was too small to argue about—where to stop for gas, what to eat for dinner, when to change drivers, why we didn’t fly.
Luckily, bickering helps the time fly by, and we found ourselves in freeway-congested LA in less than six hours. After bickering about what time to head for the convention center, we joined the “feeding frenzy” of other book lovers when the doors opened at 9:00 am. By 9:15 we’d filled four book bags each. By the time the show closed, we’d managed to score over 200 books, including such coveted titles as Too Many Toys (a cautionary tale for kids), Don’ts for Husbands (hope it include a chapter on bickering), Staging Your Comeback (I could use “The Complete Beauty Revival for Women After 45”), I Heart Geeks (who doesn’t?), The Dorm Room Diet Planner (too late?), Cornbread Nation (hopefully a cookbook) and Know Your Bowels (no comment), with the occasional Anita Shreve and James Patterson thrown in. And that didn’t include the non-book freebies—a lip balm, squeeze ball, beanie, and romance novel cover model calendar.
Only a book fanatic would have done what we did—drive to LA and pick up pounds of books we’d never heard of—all for a car-full of printed paper. We’ll never be able to read all of these books, let alone give them away to our friends—we don’t have that many friends. We could have saved a lot of money—and bickering—if we’d skipped the trip and just bought the books we really wanted at the local bookstore.
But there’s something about Book Expo that even mellows the Bickersons. When you end up with billions of books to read, like Zombie CSU (Forensics for the Living Dead), The Official Filthy Rich Handbook (How the other .0001% live), and Find Your Inner Ugly Betty (Career Lessons Inspired by TV Shows), who’s got time to bicker?