Monday, December 28, 2015

White Christmas? No Thank You

I get it. Global warming might be the most serious threat facing humanity in the long-term: coastal cities underwater, extreme weather events, the elimination of the Arctic and Antarctic ecosystems. What a terrible thing. Worse than terrorism, texting and driving, and Donald Trump combined.

And yet, when we experienced record warmth on Christmas Day in the Northeast, I couldn’t help but smile. I have an excuse, however, an exemption. I’m a wheelchair user in a walkable neighborhood, and the longer we go without snow, the more mobile I am. The more mobile I am, the happier I am. When I’m happy, I smile. I am essentially smiling about the destruction of the planet. Good thing for the exemption, or I might feel guilty.

On Christmas Day, I left the door open to our back porch for the first time in a couple of months. I went out onto my deck, down the sidewalk, into the street, zipped past my neighbor Susan’s house and arrived at the ocean. I sat by the shore with no jacket. Phoebe barked at me for leaving her behind – normal summer stuff.

So, if it was up to me, and I had the power to stop global warming, would I? Yes, I’m pretty sure I would suck it up and do the right thing for the world. I’m such a softy. But, while I officially hope the climate returns to normal and the planet survives, I can’t suppress my smile when the grass is green – it’s not even brown – in my front yard in December.

I’m unsure how the future will play out. In one scenario, the planet will remain habitable for humankind. In the alternative scenario, I will be able to wheel my way to Friday happy hour at the Snow Squall all winter long. Either way, I win.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Talking With Your Hands

Most of us don’t appreciate the extent to which we talk with our hands. It’s an unconscious thing.

I’ve noticed a couple of instances lately, where people talk with their hands and are almost powerless to stop. The first: my physical therapist. He is a great guy, a top-notch PT, and a delightful conversationalist. But it’s nothing short of comical when we become engaged in a deep conversation. He wants to continue manipulating my shoulder joint to alleviate discomfort, but he also wants to respond to what I’ve said, and he can’t do both at once. He’ll silently manipulate for a couple of seconds, attempt to say a few words, stop manipulating so he can speak freely using his hands, realize that he’s not manipulating anymore, put his hands back on my shoulder, rinse, lather, repeat. I only laugh at him on the inside.

The second person: my wife. Fresh from a PT session, Kim recently drove me to my monthly writers’ club meeting. She had an exciting day at work and communicated as much to me in an animated manner. Her hands kept flying off the steering wheel so she could talk. I told her the funny story about my PT and begged her to keep her hands firmly in place. She did, but I’m sure it’s not a permanent fix.

I can’t remember if I was a hand talker in the past. If the stereotype about Italians is accurate, I probably was. But I’m clearly not anymore. I make no wasted, unconscious movements with my hands. No fidgeting. No fingernail chewing. Any movement takes planning and effort, so I’m aware of when my hands are in motion, which isn’t often.

However, if I watch you feed your one-year-old child spoonfuls of puréed carrots from a jar, I’ll open and close my mouth in unison with her. That can’t be helped.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Aging Before Your Eyes

I have so many photos, I wanted to do something fun with them for the blog. I made this slideshow to demonstrate, in just over one minute, how I've aged in the last 52 years. I hope you find it entertaining.

For what it's worth, I was diagnosed with MS at age 38, or 56 seconds into the video.

If you are receiving this blog post via email, click here to watch the video.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Amazon Echo

I may have a problem.

It started innocently enough with my first cell phone. Back then we called it a bag phone or a car phone. Now I have a few more high-tech toys:
  • Plasma TV in bedroom
  • LCD/LED 3-D TV in living room
  • Chromecast module for living room TV
  • Slingbox so I can watch my home TV from anywhere in the world with an Internet connection
  • DirecTV satellite television contract with four receivers
  • Harmony universal remote control
  • desktop computer in bedroom, with Dragon NaturallySpeaking voice recognition
  • laptop computer in living room, with Dragon and a second monitor
  • iPad mini, with Siri voice recognition
  • iPhone 6 plus, with Siri
  • Apple Watch, with Siri
  • I also have a Blu-ray player, but I can’t remember the last time I used it
  • and my newest addition… Amazon Echo, with Alexa voice recognition
What is Amazon Echo?

Kim and I visited our friends Darcy and Tim one evening last week. Tim demonstrated his Echo for me. I immediately turned to Kim and said, “I need one of those for Christmas.”

Tim continued to show off his Echo, and before long I adjusted my thinking. “Nevermind Christmas. I need one of those tomorrow.” And I got one the next day.

So, what does it do?

Echo is a combination of a Siri-like device; a high quality, compact speaker; and a smart home controller. I can interact verbally with Echo from anywhere in the living room/dining room/kitchen area. If I leave the bedroom door open, I can even direct her from there. The Echo device has a name, and it is Alexa.

I have Alexa play music from any of several accounts such as Pandora, Amazon Prime music, or my own song files. She manages my To Do list and my shopping list. I set timers and alarms. I listen to radio stations. She can read books to me. I ask all sorts of questions about sports, news, weather, etc., just like with Siri. And, as soon as I buy some interface devices, I’m going to have her start turning on lights and other electrical switches for me. If I do that, goddamnit, I’m calling it a medical expense and deducting it on my taxes!

How is Echo working out for me?

I find Echo to be both an awesome way to feed my need for tech, and yet another voice-activated tool for people who have trouble using their hands – people like me.

But things are getting confusing at my desk. When I send texts using my phone, I employ Siri. When I use my computer, I employ Dragon. For the Echo, it’s Alexa. Each one of them has a slightly different protocol, set of rules, for how to communicate with them. I sometimes find myself speaking Siri to Dragon, or Dragon to Alexa, well, you get the picture. In fact, in the drafting of this blog post, poor Alexa tried to help me out every time I uttered her name to Dragon. Now I feel I owe Alexa an apology. Oops, I did it again.

Yeah, I think I have a problem.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

We Need Help

Kim holds down two full-time jobs: guidance counselor and caregiver. It would be nice to have somebody come in and take care of me one or two mornings a week, to lighten her load. But these people are expensive. I’d heard of programs that provide financial support for home care, but I needed help navigating that landscape. I decided to consult an expert.

Kim and I made an appointment with an attorney who specializes in elder law and people with special circumstances like mine. Susan understands all the ins and outs of obtaining services. She has experience helping clients restructure assets and income in such a way – a legal way – as to maximize potential benefits. One of first questions I asked Susan concerned ethics. I wanted to know how I could justify jumping through hoops to “beat the system?”

Susan asked if I had ever employed strategies to lower my income tax burden.
“Of course I have,” I answered.

This is no different than that. Also, the legislative bodies and government agencies that create and administer these laws understand people are taking steps to maximize their benefits and minimize exposure of their income and assets. We’re not exploiting loopholes. We’re playing by the rules, in the open – no apologies necessary.

I can live with that, I think.

Kim and I went over our finances with Susan: savings, investments, life insurance, other liquid and nonliquid assets, income, debt, etc.

We identified our concerns. Short-term, we need help in the home. Additionally, we want to be in a position where if I need long-term care, it doesn’t deplete our assets any more than absolutely necessary.

Susan went over the options. So many options. Long story short, there is no scenario where we qualify for financial assistance toward in-home help. Therefore, there is no scenario where I have to wrestle with ethics. This finding didn’t render the consultation a waste of time and money. We needed to know. Now we do. If we want these in-home services, we’re going to have to pay for them ourselves. Fair enough. We’ll start with a few hours a week to see how it goes.

If I end up in long-term care someday, Susan outlined steps we can take to minimize the impact on our overall financial well-being. I may start taking some of those steps now, just in case.

The idea of someone from outside coming into our home feels odd. The thought of having a stranger attend to my personal needs makes me uncomfortable. But my mother did it for almost 40 years; I grew up with helpers in the house. Once we get used to it, we’ll probably wonder why we waited so long.