March 2007

Home Again!

What a difference a few days makes.

Last Sunday, I was gravely concerned for my mother in law, unsure if she was slipping to the point where it’s not safe for her to live alone; by Wednesday, she was acting much more like herself.  That is to say, fully aware of her surroundings, barking out orders to accomplish her little checklist of things that need to be done.  Asking Beta all about how many boys she’s dating, asking me whether they’re nice, and why she sleeps so late.
I’ve never been so happy to be ordered about, and jumped right to it.

Having worked through the week’s challenges, I do believe that loneliness and depression had affected her to the point of dulling her senses.  It’s terrible that she has to contend with the loneliness and the situation she’s been faced with, but it seems that it’s treatable.  Someone simply has to visit more often, and there’s a new pastor at her church (which she no longer attends, but still feels very much a part of) who wants to visit.  She put him off yesterday because we were there, but I plan to call and ask that he go visit anyway.

Hopefully, he can drop by often.  MIL is a very social creature, and despite the fact that she won’t leave the house — probably afraid of falling — she really does crave conversation beyond our frequent phone calls.

I’m so relieved, and will be glad to make the trips up there to visit and to help as often as I can.  We left about 6 p.m. last night after supper, and arrived home by 9 a.m. this morning.  A brutal drive to be sure, but we’re used to it (and the kids sleep the whole way).

Thanks for the encouragement, all.  I do appreciate it.

One Problem Licked

For several years, Hubby’s youngest brother has taken care of the farm (and his mother).  Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond his control, that’s not been possible for the last few months.  That’s why we’re here, trying to make sure that Mom’s okay and will continue to be okay.

One of the challenges at the moment is that the arrival of Spring (at 8 p.m. tonight, by the way) brings the need for farm maintenance — things like spraying fungicides and pesticides to ensure that the orchards are healthy and productive.  However, governmental regulation being what it is, even the little family farmer is required to be licensed to purchase and use the necessary chemicals.

Licensure requires passing a written test, which covers some 200 pages of technical material — chemistry, biology, and law.  Some weeks ago, Hubby recognized that someone needed to be licensed in his brother’s absence, and there are no other closer brothers (one’s in DC, the other in California) who could take over, even short-term.

In a nutshell, Hubby procrastinated studying the Michigan Department of Agriculture manual until about noon today, with the only test availability about 75 miles away at 7 p.m. tonight.  Had it been anyone but him, I would have said “don’t bother,” because there are plenty of examples locally of fellas who’ve farmed all their lives, but failed the test.

However, Hubby being 1) very intelligent and 2) a gifted test-taker, he scored 100% (having read the material only once, not finishing the manual until halfway through supper, a block from the test location).  The proctor said he’s only the fifth in five years to achieve a perfect score.

We’ll likely be making a few more trips up here over the next couple of months to spray the orchards, probably over brutal 3-day weekends.  We’re both hoping that youngest bro can return in time for the busy summer harvest, otherwise, we’ll likely be here a lot more then.  I’ll have to learn to drive the tractor and the big truck.

But, it’s better to have a solution — even if difficult — than to have none.  I’m grateful that at least we have that option.  It’s one less bit of stress on Mom.

Learning the sandwich art

Fortunately, many others have paved the way through the challenge of caring for elderly parents from a distance.  I learned yesterday that the local electric company has something called a “third party notification,” so they will contact someone else (i.e., adult children of a senior citizen) before utilities are disconnected.  That, in itself, is a huge relief.

In this case, it appears that she did pay the electric bill, but as of yesterday, they hadn’t recorded it.  Maybe the mail is slow.  I should probably help her set it up for auto-payment, along with the phone bill.

Tomorrow’s challenge will be to contact some of the folks who send her paper checks (the fruit co-op of which she’s a member, and a couple of brokerages from whom she receives dividend checks) and see if we can’t get those set up for direct deposit.  That way, she doesn’t have to worry about how to get them to the bank.

I would be happy to have her live with us, and have extended that offer on a number of occasions.  However, this is the farm she was born on, that’s been in her family for over a hundred years.  The pictures on the walls are of ancestors who immigrated around the turn of the last century (or a little earlier); there is her grandparents’ framed marriage license (in German, of course).

I don’t blame her for not wanting to leave.  This is her home.

Finding a way to make this work is our problem.

Sandwich

Everyone’s heard of the sandwich generation — those still raising their own children when their parents begin needing care. I find myself rapidly approaching that point, not with my own parents, but my mother-in-law.

It’s heartbreaking to see a woman who could (and did) calculate payroll in her head become so confused or depressed that three months of mail — bills, checks, and everything else — is stacked unopened by her chair.

She no longer drives; she no longer cooks, beyond putting a frozen TV dinner in the microwave.

As Hubby begins working on getting repairs made to various pieces of farm equipment, I’ve been through all the mail, organizing, sorting, and tending to business. The bills are all paid now, and a stack of checks have been deposited in her bank. A few were approaching the magic 90-day age when they would have no longer been any good.

She watches the network news every night, fretting herself silly over the war in Iraq, over a president who fired seven US Attorneys (didn’t Clinton fire ninety-something when he took office?), but neglecting the very matters over which she has absolute control. It’s as though she can no longer differentiate between what she can and should worry about, and those things which she can do nothing about.

It’s obvious to me that she does not need to be living alone, but equally obvious that she will not leave her home. I would be happy to help with the daily living tasks, but I live 14 hours away.

What does one do in this circumstance? I am so afraid for her.

Who Left Who?

Sen. Mike Williams, of Maynardville, has left/quit/defected (depending on which paper you read) the Republican Party.

Williams says he hasn’t changed; the Party has:

“Some in the party are leading us down a path to bitterness and divisiveness and in doing so have left me and the people I represent behind,” Williams said. “We have not left them. They have left us.”

* * *

In 1993-94, I chaired the local Republican party through that year’s historic victory — an interesting 12-year ride which came to an end last year. Back then, it was very important to Republicans to be the party of the “big tent,” to allow for a great deal of diversity of thought while coalescing around a few basic principles: that government should be smaller and more focused on its core missions, that government should do only what people cannot do well for themselves, and that local governments should be empowered because they are closest to the people.

But just a few years later in the late 1990’s, change began taking place at the local level. The subsequent party leadership insisted on more ideological purity, shutting out anyone who differed on any issue — especially socially conservative issues that really run contrary to the principle of the government not doing what people can do for themselves (make moral decisions). I thought this was an aberration, a personality problem more than a change in the party; I did not think it related to power, as the new local leadership was completely disconnected from our state and federal Republican elected officials.

However, I’ve seen that change creeping up at the State level as Republicans squeaked out a majority four years ago, then accelerate with the election of a Republican Lt. Governor this year.

Power changed the Republican Party at the national level; exercising and expanding that power seemed to become more important than adherence to the principles that put them there in the first place. Losing power changed the Democrats too — after a while, it made them more agile, more willing to be open to a wider variety of voices in order to grow.

I think that power has changed the Republican Party at the State level as well, and I don’t like the change. Yes, we should have a Republican Speaker in the Senate, and we do. But that does not mean that the Party should clamp down like a vise on any divergent ideas or votes.

I don’t know what constituted the breaking point for Mike Williams, but I’ve known him long enough, and I think well enough, that I’m gravely concerned about what may have been going on behind closed doors to make him decide he didn’t want to be part of it any longer.

Our collective strength — whether as a nation, state, political party, or community — lies in our ability to maintain our individuality, yet work together on areas of agreement, while negotiating to find common ground in our areas of disagreement. Sure, it’s messy. But it works well when allowed to work as it should.

I hate to see the Republicans shoot themselves in the foot so early in the process.

Other sites for Target?

I’ve heard it said many times that the Pine Ridge site really is the only suitable site in Oak Ridge that meets Target’s size and traffic count criteria, but enough people were questioning that fact after Mr. Monday’s letter to the Editor on Monday that I went back to the City Manager to find out.

His response?

Monday’s property was considered early on and due to access and wetlands there was not enough developable land left.  

And, since so many folks seem to be asking the same questions, he forwarded me the list of other sites that were evaluated:

I can tell you about the sites that have been discussed and what I know. I really do not think that the public realizes how large this project is.

1. The old Food City site on Illinois – The entire site is approximately 10 acres. Target alone needs approximately 19 acres. Also, the building is approximately 30,000 sq. ft. Target alone is at least 180,000 sq. ft.

2. Big Lots area – to make the site larger the waterway has to be moved. This is a very expensive process and still will not yield enough space for just the Super Target.

3. Museum site – already been turned down by the Museum Board

4. Mall site – Unless the owners can get the restrictions lifted by all of the owners and tenants, it will not happen. In addition, even with the proposed changes, it will be difficult to place a Super Target on that site with the layouts and parking demands. I suggest talking to the owners to get their opinion.

5. Bob Monday owns just over 40 acres of property, but a significant portion is encumbered by water. The main reason that Target will not locate on that site is because there is currently no access to Illinois. In addition, there is just enough room for a Super Target, but not the other 220,000 sq. ft. that is proposed. Losing that amount of new retail would severely weaken the financial models

6. The next piece is the driving range. It is located on a landfill.

7. The arboretum is out.

8. Commerce Park is out

9. The church owns 11 acres next to the cemetery with limited access   [NM: not sure what this refers to]

10. I, along with my staff, looked at many smaller parcels on our GIS, but could not piece together a tract large enough to accommodate a development of this size.

11. National Fitness Site. Home Depot tried to get a co-anchor when they built, but Target said no. It is our understanding Target wants to locate on Illinois. In addition, with the new shops and office buildings that have been constructed, there is not enough room on the site.

12. Have the people read our frequently asked questions.  Do they realize what could go on this site without any additional approval? I know the public does not believe us, but eventually something will locate there.

13. GBT would love to find another site, because of the high construction costs. GBT has already done their own land review and came to the same conclusion.

14. We have explained to several other developers that if they will bring legitimate proposals, we will work with them. All we have so far is vague commentaries, but not a legitimate proposal.

Go ahead and download the FAQ’s.  It’s important to understand the details, and it seems that too many people are getting caught up in chasing “de tails” every time a new rumor is floated by someone who doesn’t like the current site — whether for their own environmental reasons, their own financial interest in another site, or whatever.

3,000 Signatures

The 3,000 signatures are all the talk today: AT‘s lit up with a righteous lecture on the workings of a representative democracy, while Daco steadfastly defends the petitioners’ right to petition, even while disagreeing with their wish to do so.

Both are absolutely correct.

Yes, we have a right to petition for a referendum on general obligation borrowing in Tennessee. That’s an important right, because it’s a final check-and-balance against an elected body over-obligating the citizenry, well beyond the terms of elected office.

At the same time, it’s possible to over-exercise that right (as well as any one of many others) and develop a reputation that isn’t at all aligned with the image we’d like to present to the world. Just in the last four or so years, we had the mall referendum, the charter referendum, the high school referendum, and now this.

The mall referendum was over a $23.2M note, and failed. It had been a while since the charter was updated and was time to do so, but make no mistake — the whole drive for a charter commission came from the same folks who were upset about the whole mall referendum, with a good bit of the discussion centering on things like a TABOR and such. The high school referendum was called by City Council simply by virtue of the sales tax increase requested to pay the note; $55M is a whole lot of money, spread over a long time. It needed to pass, and it did (thank you).

The current proposal is much smaller, with a maximum proposed borrowing at about $6M. Some members of City staff think they might be able to get it down to as little as $3M. The return on investment, while not a jackpot, is solid. The benefits to the schools and to citizens would be immediate.

So yes, it’s within any citizen’s right to call for a referendum on the general obligation note, but I think it’s petty and small-minded. I also remain convinced that the whole opposition movement is less about the debt than lingering resentment about the site itself… many of the key players are the same ones who objected to the initial development several years ago.

As a community, I think most of us recognize that we need to broaden our tax base. Most understand that sales taxes are a part of that (although many do not understand how much sales taxes in particular directly benefit education). What I’m afraid most people do NOT realize is, if we don’t turn around our sales tax deficit quickly, property taxes will have to rise or services will have to be cut.

Many of the same people carrying petitions today will object vehemently, but property tax increases levied by local government are not subject to referendum. So, the tax increase will pass. Residents will be unhappy, and continue grousing as they subsidize Knox County Schools and Knox County government while shopping at Turkey Creek, Cedar Bluff, and West Town Mall.

Oak Ridge is just full of smart people; how can we be so stupid?

Out of Order

After visiting my doc yesterday, I headed off to Walgreens to pick up my antibiotic and decongestants (a massive upper respiratory infection set in sometime Sunday); the amoxicillin wasn’t a problem, but they said they were out of the pseudoephedrine/guaifenesin stuff that works so well.  Yesterday, they told me it would be in today.

Today, they said it’s on back-order, and suggested I call my doctor for a substitution.

I suggested that I’d sooner call my doctor and have him call in the scrip to Kroger instead — wouldn’t that make more sense?  Actually, it would have been a good thing to just get a written prescription, except that calling it in is probably one of the things they now do to keep it out of the hands of meth-makers.

Apologies in Advance

To all of you who may have spent time with me this weekend, I’m sorry.  I hope you have a strong immune system.

It’s probably strep, though I won’t know until I go to the doctor sometime today (taking Alpha with me, since we shared a smoothie on Friday and she now has the aches and fever as well).  I know that I was exposed on the trip to Chattanooga last week.
On Friday, I just felt a little more tired than usual.  Not sick, just weary… along with occasional chills.  The latter should be a sign for most people, but I’m so cold-natured to begin with, it’s hard to know when I’m chilling because of a fever, or just shivering because that’s the way I am.

By the time I went to bed on Saturday night though, I felt like I’d been beaten with a Louisville Slugger.  I was still chilling, but by then had hubby next to me to confirm that yes, I was burning up.  So I’ve been here in the bed ever since.

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