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East Coast USA, United States
Lowcountry porch sitter. Appalachian Mountain lover. Finger Lakes dreamer.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

We must evolve before we are defined by care levels

Found myself plucked from an eldercare experience framed around a senior in less than adequate health to hovering over an individual in a far more fragile existence this week.  At the same time learning to manage the interests of an individual while drowning in terminology found only in the life span development arena of "levels of care."

Turns out, the routine seems to indicate the experience is consistent with others navigating these same waters. While our experiences are similiar we are a mixed bag of adults attempting, for better or for worse, near or far, to manage the well-being of those closest to us who can no longer muster themselves to stay in the game of life among those who can ambulate.

A myriad of options present themselves to ensure our loved ones find comfort in an unfamiliar realm.  The "old" normal takes a back seat to a new landscape of living with limitations. Some physical, some mental and some spiritual.

While it can seem a solitary experience with a parade of therapists, care plan professionals, case workers, nurses, doctors and social workers arming you with information and the latest of suggestions, one does find oneself lumped in with a group of people with a common experience.  Presenting paper work, notorizing copies, asking questions, soliciting advice to make the best of the situation we find our loved ones in. Bound together by a simple hallway of room numbers and name plates we eventually discover which room a loved one occupies, acquire a familiar tone to inquire "how are things today?" and glean an essence of what life looked like for them before aging and deterioriation stepped in.   Each of us ever clinging to the hope we find a glimpse of the people we once knew before we were robbed of the possibility.

Some days are easy. Others difficult. Constantly carving out time from our own lives to see to it that "our people" have what they need and are aware of their progress or presence ~ whichever is greater at the time.  Putting aside our own lives, our means to earning a living, maintaining relationships and connecting with others are the plates we spin in tandem whilst we also discover the means to managing someone we love in decline.  There really is no choice other than to dive in or stay away from the process.  It really does seem to boil down to the two extremes in general observation.

While the healthcare professionals take on the greatest of burdens of those needing care they must also rally the spirits of the family members when we can't do that for ourselves.  Sometimes the phrase "we got this, you can go home now" is the sweetest of phrases.

What's evident is that there aren't enough options. The categories of classifications are aplenty, but a huge gap remains between what is available and what could be. The cut and dry formula of a senior health care system bolstered by traditional medicine seems outdated; yet, it is far more readily available. What's missing are the nontraditional practices and the acceptance across the board of those disciplines~either as a primary tool or complimentary feature to an allopathic method.  These so called alternative routes continue to break ground in positioning the human being in greater stead.    Whether taken holistically  or applied in a blending of the traditional and nontraditional methodologies it would prove a worthwhile endeavor to explore more options as the rest of us age.

Hope though not in short supply is mighty hard to identify in these waters with oars driven by health care titles, government programs and insurance companies.   It would just seem probable that we mere mortals made up of a dynamic set of particles could employ an assortment of means to improve the human condition. Currently we seem shortchanged by availability.

A better way must evolve. More importantly, we must evolve.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Four Leaf Clovers and Eldercare

Picking up the eldercare journal entries again...

Just when you think your frame of reference for a parent has slipped away and has been replaced with some stranger and utterly unlikeable the Universe has the where-with-all to deliver a sign in a language of words that speaks solely to the intended.

Yesterday, Dad verbally delivered the first stanza from a poem (my dad just doesn't quote poetry EVER). While that's significant in and of itself the underpinning nature of the poem even more poignant...I needed to hear these words.

Four Leaf Clover by Ella Rhoads Higginson (1861-1940)

I know a place where the sun is like gold,
And the cherry blooms burst with snow,
And down underneath is the loveliest nook,
Where the four-leaf clovers grow.

One leaf is for hope, and one is for faith,
And one is for love, you know,
And God put another in for luck—
If you search, you will find where they grow.

But you must have hope, and you must have faith,
You must love and be strong – and so—
If you work, if you wait, you will find the place
Where the four-leaf clovers grow.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Six degrees of separation from the Cooperative Extension System

Recalling the moment I received my award for photography from Eastman Kodak at the Cabell County 4-H Camp and Conference Center in Barboursville, West Virginia brings forth a smile in the recollection of camp fires, new friends and character building activities.   In  many ways it foretold the role Cooperative Extension would play in my life.  Throughout my life.

First the obvious. I spent my club time in Huntington, West Virginia focused on an enriching activity that my mother encouraged me to pursue because of my ability to tell a story.  For many years I read books and kept a journal, but she prodded me to visualize my thoughts "capture the moments you find so easy to craft into words on film." I took those talents a bit further later in life and combined the two activities into a passion for public speaking. What's significant about the award I received is the company, Eastman Kodak. Several years after receiving the photography award our family moved to Kingsport, Tennessee which housed Kodak's second largest facility (now Eastman Chemical, a spin off of the parent company).   Somewhat prophetic when I think about how a young girl in one state lands in another state in a town whose primary employer recognized her photography achievement. 

Now I wish I could say my understanding of the significance of the Smith-Lever Act  prompted me to engage in a 4-H program, but the truth is my parents' participation as volunteers, former 4-Hers themselves finding a way while living poor to give their daughters summer vacations and extracurricular activities made it an ideal environment.  In fact, their personal investment reaped many rewards beyond the time and talent they shared during those early years. 

Fast forward through many life passages~ I graduate from high school, go to college, graduate, secure a job in higher education, get married, get divorced, and then move to Ithaca, New York to go to graduate school. Here's where my Extension story gets interesting.  I attend Ithaca College as an adult student in the Roy H. Park School of Communications to complete a masters in Corporate Communication (also lacking the then current technical skills found in mainstream media), buy into the library privileges at Cornell University so I have the best resources available to me, fall in love with the nineteen libraries at Cornell (easy for a book worm to do) and then graduate. When it came time to locate employment where my previous experience and newly developed skills could go to work my mentor/professor Diane Gayeski  (interestingly enough now dean of the Park School) suggested I look at Cornell, the land grant University for New York state. I also consulted the reference librarians at Mann Library (which services the learning in life sciences, agriculture, human ecology and applied social sciences at Cornell) who I'd gotten to know quite well during my two years of graduate study. It was they who forwarded a notice about an opportunity with Cornell University's Cooperative Extension as the Director of Public Relations and encouraged me to apply. 

My employment at Cornell University was one of the most rewarding and rich experiences of my professional career. Not only did I get to spend time working with the University's Extension agents and academic professionals I also captured a keen understanding of each of New York state's 58 County Extension offices, their respective elected officials, the people of New York and attended most all the county well as the annual state fair in Syracuse. It was here that I was introduced to the profession of public affairs serving in the Government Affairs division at the University and later performing a Cooperative Service Agreement (CSA) as an employee of Cornell with CSREES  in 4-H Youth Development (now USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture). 

It's the people connected to Cooperative Extension that make the difference. I met Cathann Kress at Cornell as the Director of 4-H Youth Development and later worked with her at USDA. She now serves as the Vice President for Extension and Outreach at Iowa State University. I worked closely with Kathryn Boor and her Food Safety Lab at Cornell. She was then a professor of food science and I enlisted her to participate in a topical seminar on BioTerrorism with the then Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. She now serves as the Ronald P. Lynch Dean of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell. For me, these Extension professionals symbolize the greatest asset of the system, its people serving the public needs through research and outreach. Living the land grant mission out loud.

All good things don't have to end, but a family death and a parent in decline necessitated my return South and departure from Cornell. What's the first thing I do when I land in Beaufort, South Carolina? I look up my local agent at Clemson Extension and ask for assistance in getting familiar with my new home town.  

Life continues to intersect with Extension. I served as a board member in its infancy for what is now the most successful farmers market in our region (Farmers Market of Bluffton). Clemson Extension was there providing expertise and assistance in placing the market on the map at its start. I get a dose of the Master Gardner program at the Port Royal Farmer's Market each week. I follow the careers of my former colleagues, applaud the accomplishments of USDA sponsored programs and marvel with pride at the success of the system in connecting its efforts to real people despite a myriad of changes to its structure, budgets and the unfolding times.

From a passion for photography to a profession and livelihood in civic and public affairs to continuing to rely on its people to give me the information I need to be successful, Cooperative Extension one hundred years later delivers the mission of its intent and continues to go on strong.

Happy 100 Years Extension!

Friday, February 28, 2014


There's always a point where one can refer to as the origin of their personal success whether that's a professional point of distinction in one's career or a victory recorded during challenging times.

I spent an entire year on Sundays in the kitchen cooking. The activity played out like a course in self discovery where success and failure were met with equal measure of satisfaction. It never mattered if I remembered to take a picture of the food I cooked or if I wrote a blog post telling a story connected to what transpired in the kitchen or whether anyone ever tasted what I prepared much less read what was written about the end product (however it was always nice to be acknowledged with a share, a like or a link in social networks).

It certainly didn't matter to me if what I had to say was in any way considered extraordinary. It was a constant at a time when my life was filled with a great deal of uncertainty. I fell away from the routine of it when less chaos and more certainty entered my life. What I gleaned from the commitment of engaging in the weekly sessions is that I can reignite the relaxation of it any day of the week, at any point in life, under any set of circumstances.  I immediately find peace of mind the minute I step into a kitchen, don an apron and start gathering ingredients. The familiarity of it needs no introduction or scheduling.

It's enough to know what comes from the engagement.

Life Enrichment is like a travel and learn program...offering infusions that make every day life thereafter far more interesting! ~ Ann-Marie Adams, Reflections on a Meaningful Life