Sunday, May 15, 2016

The New Ride

2016 Subaru Legacy, with the Toaster sitting behind it

We've had the Toaster since August 2005. It's had very few issues mechanically. We have to keep an eye on the modifications (lowered floor, ramp, etc.) because they rust, so we've had some work done on the mods twice to keep the rust under control. But, it has 128,000 miles on it. We want to keep it as long as possible - replacing it would mean getting a minivan (bah!) and having that modified; a new one would cost $50,000+. Some car manufacturers (like Toyota) will allow you to finance such a vehicle for 10 years, but, sorry, I do not want a big car payment for 120 months. 

Over the last year, I've been taking my mother regularly to various doctors. She's 87, stopped driving and sold her car last year. The MD trips require that I rent a car because she has a few mobility issues and can't get up the Toaster's ramp and into the back seat. I have loved driving these rental cars. They ride much more smoothly than the Toaster, which is pretty crappy in bad weather and blows all over the highway in the wind. They have fun technology upgrades like rear view cameras and bluetooth connectivity. They get better mileage. And, perhaps most importantly, they have cup holders! The Toaster doesn't have a center console where you'd find the cup holders as it had to be removed to make space for the wheelchair well. 

I thought, then, why not get a new car with a relatively low monthly payment? It would take care of the rides for my mom, reduce mileage on the Toaster and be fun to drive. I also wanted 4-wheel or all-wheel drive to make winter driving safer. I consulted with my brother, who is incredibly knowledgeable about cars. I wanted your basic mid-sized sedan that would be easy for my mom to get in and out of. Apparently, the only such vehicle on the road (at least in the base trim level) was a Subaru Legacy. Ford Fusions AWD, but you have to pay for more than the basic car to get it. Nissan Altimas, Toyota Camrys, etc. don't have AWD or 4-wheel drive. Also, my brother and his wife and 2 of his kids all drive Subarus of various models and love them. 

I made an appointment for a test drive at a nearby dealer with the stipulation that I could bring the car over to my mom's house so we could make sure she'd have no problems getting in or out. Loved the car and it worked for her. Yay! Made a deal that day to lease it for 3 years. I picked the car up on April 30th and have loved driving it the last 2 weeks.

I'm getting 31 miles to the gallon and I can go almost 500 miles between fill ups. With bluetooth, I can make and receive handsfree calls right from the dashboard. I often listen to audio books while driving with the books on my phone and that's a snap with the bluetooth. The handling is so much better than the Toaster's and it feels really sure on the road in the rain. No snow yet, but I'm sure it'll be much, much better this winter. 

So far, the only problem I've experienced is a recall email 13 days after getting the car. Apparently, some new Legacys have a poorly constructed steering column and it can cause the wheels to stop turning when you turn the wheel. Yikes! The email states not to drive the car and have it towed in, but the dealer is slammed and suggested I drive it in on Monday to be checked out. If the problem does exist, I'll get a rental to use until the repair can be made. I'll be glad when this is squared away, but at least I have the Toaster to use until Monday. 

Recall notwithstanding, it has been fun to drive and have this new car!

Friday, April 1, 2016

Caregiver Aids #19: Handsfree Smartphone - UPDATE

Front view of Skip's wheelchair (sans Skip) with Moto X Pure phone mounted on stalk

View from the back (note: the fabric on the chair's headrest pulls Skip's hair so I got her a shower cap as a cover. Problem solved.)

Yesterday, after writing my last post, I dug out Skip's phone and got it charged up. 

This morning we tried a few things out with it. Skip said, "listen up, Moto," and it beeped to life. First, she called me. The call went through and it defaulted to speakerphone so Skip could hear me. Great! Then she called HM, her primary aide, to wish her a happy birthday. Worked like a charm as well.

But what about answering the phone? Sometimes when I go to Foxwoods, I leave there pretty late. I call her when I'm on my way home so she knows when to expect me. It would be great if I called her cell and she answered ... most of the time she can't get the buttons to work to answer our landline phone so this would be an excellent alternative. Only thing is, you can't seem to answer the phone without hands. There is a command, "talk to me," that notifies you for the next 30 minutes of any texts or calls you get. We'll see if that allows her to answer, but obviously it's bound by a time limit and of only limited applicability. Worst case is, when she can't answer the phone, she can wait for it to stop ringing and just call the person back. .

Now, it's on texting.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Caregiver Aids #19: Handsfree Smartphone

I did a caregiver aid entry (#15) for a panic pendant, which Skip had for a number of years. I canceled it some months back for 2 reasons. First, I doubted Skip would be able to press the big button on the pendant hard enough to trigger a call out for help. Second, they raised their monthly monitoring fee without giving us any warning, which is just terrible customer service.

So I needed to find an alternative for her to use in an emergency. But while I was at it, she also could use a tool that would allow her to make calls, send text messages and control other devices, such as the tv (since the remote is very, very difficult for her to use).

I thought a smartphone was a no-brainer for all of this. I wasn't sure which phones really had handsfree operation, so I thought we could benefit from someone with more technical knowledge. I called Easter Seals to see if they had someone who could help us identify Skip's requirements and find a tool or tools to meet them. They sent someone out who decided that Skip's computer was the best way to go, even though I disagreed, since she wouldn't be able to use it when she was lying in bed. Nonetheless, he tried out a head mouse, which allows you to move your mouse around the screen with head movements, which Skip didn't like. He tried out Dragon Naturally Speaking with a microphone, which Skip had trouble with. She'd do all right with the commands when he was here for training and then they'd drop out of her brain after he left. D'oh!it l

It looked like the research for the handsfree phone was back in my court. I use a Motorola Droid Mini (I love its small size) which does have handsfree capabilities. I can wake it up merely by stating "OK Google" and then give it commands. I can make calls, send texts and find out how old Sophia Loren is (81, if you were wondering). So, I thought all Motorola phones had this capability. Nope. Only Droids and the Moto X. I found this out after buying an inexpensive Motorola phone for Skip. Again, d'oh!

I got her a Moto X. It's a big phone, but that is a benefit for her so she could see the screen if it was mounted on a stalk attached to her wheelchair or hospital bed rail. We trained it to recognize her voice (and her lovely Boston accent) so she could wake it up and give it commands. She did get the hang of it. So she could use it to send texts to me and friends, etc.

Right now, though, she's not using it. I'm not sure what we need to do to motivate her to use it enough so she is comfortable with its features and takes advantage of them. After all, it's only a matter of time before more and more apps are added or improved that will allow her to control more through the phone -- such as the cable box, which will give it even more utility for her.

Yesterday, I saw a cute ad on tv with Cookie Monster advertising that the iPhone 6S has handsfree capabilities. Before, you could use Siri in handsfree mode, but first you needed to wake up the phone with your hand to do so or it had to be plugged in (I guess listening for "Hey Siri" used up a lot of battery). For that reason, I didn't consider an iPhone when looking at possible smartphones to get Skip. Looks like that may have changed for those trying to figure out what's possible today.

I'm getting out the Moto X and charging it back up for Skip to practice on and use. We're going to Atlantic City in 3 weeks and she'll need to have a device to reach me when she's in the hotel room alone at night. She goes to bed early (can you say 8?) and I'll be up for hours more being a degenerate gambler in the casino. I want her to have a way to reach me should an emergency arise.

In summary, today, your options for handsfree smartphones are: Motorola Droids, Moto X and iPhone 6S. This list will only grow longer, I am sure. I do see the smartphone as a great tool for Skip, and she claims to as well, we just have a few hurdles to get over first.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Do You Give Money to the Homeless?

Years ago: no.

Today: yes.

Years ago, I heard a piece on the radio driving to work about giving money to panhandlers. The story's main point was that some huge percentage of panhandlers were going to turn around and use that money to buy drugs or alcohol. So, I believed that giving a homeless person money would actually hurt them more than help. I felt uncomfortable passing by someone asking for money on the street and not giving them something, but at least gave them respect by looking them in the eye and saying, "sorry, but no."

Then I stopped working in Boston. I stopped running into panhandlers quietly saying "spare change" as I walked down a sidewalk because you don't see that kind of thing where I lived in an affluent suburb outside of Boston.

Now, we live in Worcester. During our first winter here when Skip and I were out one evening, we stopped at a convenience store. Man, it was cold that day. When I got out of the car, I found huddled in the parking lot a young, homeless man and his 2 dogs. He asked me for money ... how could I refuse? I gave him $10 and we chatted briefly about his dogs. I felt good, feeling that I was helping him and his dogs. Hoping he'd be okay, that they'd all be okay, and that they'd all get something to eat because of my gift. Skip, too, thought it was great that I'd given him some cash.

I couldn't stop thinking about that young man and his dogs. Over the next few weeks, I drove around in the area of that convenience store, hoping to find him and see that he was all right, give him some more money, pet his dogs. Not surprisingly, I was never able to find him.

But that encounter changed my attitude about panhandlers; I wanted to help them directly. You often see homeless folks with cardboard signs asking for money at many streetlights around the city. If I stop at the light and there's sufficient time to give them so dough, I do. They are always appreciative, thanking me and saying "God bless you" (being an atheist, I could live without that, but I understand where it's coming from). Sometimes we have a minute to chat before the light changes.

So maybe some of that money does go to drugs or alcohol, feeding the addiction. But I know some of it goes to food or shelter or other necessities of life lacking for that soul. Were I to make a donation to a charitable organization helping the homeless, I know some of it, perhaps a lot of it, would be siphoned off for fundraising costs, administrative costs and so on. Here, the $10 or $20 I pass out the window of my car goes right to one person who needs it.

There are far too many homeless and with milder weather upon us, I see more and more of them. I wish I'd never see a cardboard sign asking for money again. But, as long as I do, I'm willing to help. I have so much, why not pass on a bit to those who need it far more than me?

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Sunday Cooking

On bullet 12 in the list of 27 from my last post, I mentioned that we've changed our eating style. You could call it Paleo, but, for me, it's stricter than that. Most importantly, no added sugar, dairy or gluten. My sister also eats this way, and her sons to some extent as well (she has 2 sets of twin boys). Her younger sons go to college here in Worcester, so I do some cooking for them as it's hard to eat cleanly out of a school cafeteria.

On Sundays, there's a whole mess of cooking done here. The goal is to cook 3 dinners for my nephews along with smoothies for them for 2 breakfasts. We cook enough so that we also get 3 meals out of it and my sister gets some as well. Today's menu is:

  • Chicken breasts with garlic, fresh basil and sliced tomatoes over zucchini noodles (aka zoodles) and diced tomatoes sauteed in olive oil and garlic.
  • Corned beef and cabbage (Skip is 100% Irish and there's no getting away from a boiled dinner around St. Patty's day) -- though it will be hard to find corned beef that isn't full of nitrates and nitrites. Skip insists this must include rutabaga turnip, most definitely not a favorite of mine. 
  • Curried chicken and coconut soup. 
I'll also do up some extra vegies as separate dishes for my sister and me. I've been on a rainbow chard kick lately, so likely some of that. Also, I'll do something roasted like parsnips or sweet potatoes. Or green beans, or whatever I can find at Trader Joe's in the organic section. 

Finally, I'll cook up some chicken breasts so I can make chicken salad for Skip and her aide HM for dinner on Wednesday, since I'll be heading to Foxwoods for the day. 

Speaking of HM, she's here all day with us on Sundays to take care of Skip and help with all the cooking. She really enjoys cooking with me and I with her. It's always more fun to cook when you have company, especially company that will wash the dishes!

It's funny how much I enjoy cooking now. I used to hate it. In the early days of our life together, Skip worked for a time as a chef in gourmet shops and a restaurant. Fortunately for me, she was willing to cook at home as well, so I got to avoid cooking. As her mobility and dexterity declined, she lost her ability to stand in front a hot stove and cooking either landed at my feet or we got takeout. So, I did a little cooking unhappily and we ate a lot of takeout. 

Now, as a retiree, I have a lot more time so I don't resent spending it in the kitchen. And, I find that cooking is a real creative pleasure. I get to have control over what I eat, can be creative and try out lots of new dishes, and, when I'm done, there's an excellent meal to enjoy. 

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Posting Again, I Think

Cranky and Skip a couple weeks back
Lately, I've been thinking about this blog and how I read lots of other folks' blogs (mostly about poker), so maybe I should bring my Musings back from the dead. I enjoyed it before -- it gave me a good way to organize my thoughts, it connected me with the larger world and I managed to make some friends through it.

So, let's give this a try. First, let's update everyone (all 3 or 4 of you) on our current status:

  • We still live in our Worcester, MA condo. We moved here 4 years ago this July. Still loving the place and the location. 
  • Skip just turned 60 and I'll hit that milestone this summer. Yikes! Around about the time I turn 60, we'll celebrate 35 years of fun and fireworks together. 
  • We are supported in our lives by some great aides. HM has been with us almost 3 years and has most of the caregiving hours. We even take her on trips with us. AI just joined us a few months back, but she is caring, does good work and, best of all, is incredibly reliable. MW, who I've spoken of in posts long ago, still joins Skip 2 afternoons a week. I think she's been with us for almost 10 years. 
  • Skip is still a quad but retains some use of her right hand, though not a ton. At least she can operate her computer on her own, but tv remotes and telephones are exceedingly difficult. Forks and spoons are out of the question. Voice operated devices are becoming more and more common, so I suspect we're not too far from a tv remote that she'll be able to control with her voice.
  • In an effort to improve our health, we have dramatically changed our diets. There is evidence that eating "clean" can help reduce inflammation and disease for people with MS and it's just plain healthier for me. I lost a bunch of weight changing my diet, got a bit lazy and put most of it back on, but am now back on track. No dairy, gluten or added sugar. Lots of vegies, protein and healthy fat. 
  • We are joined in our home by 3 dogs. Ruby is 12, Dakini is 11 and Addy is 6. Dakini is a Shih Tzu and the other 2 are mini-dachshunds, though actually not too mini. I'm sure I'll bore everyone to tears with stories of them going forward. 
  • Skip has been a bit bored of late, which isn't surprising, considering she spends most of her days at home, stuck in the same routine. We've been getting out to the movies a lot, so that is a help for her spirits. With the coming warm weather, I'm hoping I can convince her to get outside just to enjoy the air and maybe take a walk around our neighborhood.
  • I'm fairly content in my life. I do a lot of cooking, read obsessively and generally enjoy myself. So, probably not too many cranky rantings in the future, but I'm sure I'll come up with a few.
  • We still have our Honda Element (aka the Toaster) with the modifications for Skip to get in and out with her wheelchair. It has 126,000 miles on it but has had very few problems during it's 11 years with us. A few years back, we needed to have some rust taken care of on the modifications, but that looks to be under control for now. Fortunately for us, there is an auto mechanic/body shop 2 blocks from us run by a guy that I love and absolutely trust. He takes care of everything on that car since I discovered him 2 years ago and I think he wants it to last forever just as much as I do. I'm hoping we'll get to at least 200k miles with it.
So that's the current state here in the Cranky and Skip household. I look forward to writing posts and reconnecting with those in the blogosphere. Be well!