Friday, January 29, 2010

Holy Toledo!

Well, I had an entirely different post planned for today, but circumstances have changed. That's all right, I still had some photos to locate for that one anyway.

So, you may remember that I was part of a nationwide competition to win/promote the new Ford Fusion. It was called Fusion 41, and there were eight teams of five members. The team leader was invited to the contest because she had purchased one of the first Ford Fusion Hybrids, and if our team won, Ford would pay off the rest of the car. Everyone else on the winning team would get free gas for a year. Plus, every person in the competition would be put in a drawing to win their own Fusion.

Well, we didn't win. We came in third, which isn't too bad. They gave us a car for the competition that we had to do all sorts of crazy tasks in and around as each member drove. It was fun, exhausting, frustrating, and exciting. You can see some of our videos on the Ford site and the Facebook pages.

Anyway, a couple of days ago I received an email from one of the marketing people. She thanked us all for our participation, and said a special present was on its way to each of us. Today, I received mine...

I got an iPod Touch!!!

I can't believe it! That's so cool! Sure, a phone might be nicer, but this is perfect for me right now. I can't wait to try out all the crazy gizmos and gadgets on it. My wife already refers to my iPod as my "girlfriend" because I have it with me pretty much constantly. Wait until she sees me with this thing!

My birthday is Monday; what a fantastic surprise present!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Running Again

Woohoo, I ran again this morning!

Actually, I ran a little last week, but that hardly counts. This was my first regular three-mile run in over a month.

I had gotten pretty regular, running about four or five times a week. I was even starting to increase my distance to five miles. But then right around Thanksgiving, after I was in the local Turkey Trot 5K, I did something to my hip. It was pretty sore, and I limped for a good two weeks (or more) afterward.

I knew I had to take it easy to let my body heal, but I was afraid that taking so much time off would really break this good habit I was developing. I actually looked forward to running every morning. My pace was gradually getting better, and I loved tracking my stats on the Runner's World website log. I'm happy to say that although this morning's run was not one of my bests, I still managed a pretty good pace.

Although the injury was the primary reason for my lapse, I'll confess that I also hate running in the cold. I would have quit during the coldest mornings anyway.

Another plus, I took Flower with me again. I run a loop around the neighborhood that's about 1.5 miles. I always take her on the first lap, and take her around again if I'm in the mood to deal with her. She loves it, of course.

And speaking of the dog princess, she's racked up another kill. This one was a night kill, which I thought was pretty impressive. So, the squirrel population is down a total of three now. She's got her eyes set on a big opossum that sneaks around the yard at night. I'm not sure how I'll react if she gets that one.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

My Father's Health, Part 4: Mentally

No, you haven't missed the first three parts; don't bother looking for them. I decided to start with part four for a number of reasons:
  • The newest stuff is freshest in my mind
  • I'll be able to add new things without waiting until I've caught up with the old
  • I'm kind of tired of talking about the old stuff
  • I think we teach history wrong (the subject of another blog post someday)
The short recap is that my 76-year-old Dad (77 in two weeks) went into the hospital on December 5th, and didn't come out until January 20th. After multiple surgeries, most everything is on the mend. His kidneys are not likely to regain functionality, so he will probably be on dialysis for the rest of his life. He's also very weak and is barely able to get around on his own.

But what I want to talk about now is his mental state. It's a fairly weird and difficult subject for any son to describe the decline of his father's mind. I'm not sure if this post is intended as sharing, therapy, ranting, or what.

For a month before he went into the hospital, my Dad was showing some small signs of dementia. It was sporadic, but he would forget the date, people's names, that sort of thing. We took him to see a neurologist, but their scans showed nothing out of the ordinary for a man of his age. They just wanted to keep an eye on things.

Fast-forward a few weeks to when he's in the hospital, and it's a different situation. Everything combines to really mess with his head. The drugs he takes for his bladder, the anesthesia he has for the surgeries, the disorientation of being in a strange bed with a constant parade of strangers checking on you, they all interact and cause his dementia to really manifest. There's a common ailment among the elderly called "Sundowning," in which the patient can be perfectly normal during the day, but as soon as night comes, everything turns upside-down. This was my Dad to a tee. One nurse told me that he had a completely different personality at night, and I believe it. I spent several nights sleeping in his room, and I experienced him at his worst to be sure.

As he was in the hospital longer, it just got worse. Towards the end of his stay, he was almost completely incoherent or "confused" all day long. I say confused because that seems to be the preferred term used in the hospital. I don't know if it's a medical diagnosis or just PC. But the interesting thing was, he wasn't a raving loon. He spoke very rationally. The problem was that the reality he was in had no bearing on the reality the rest of us were in. There was one time he was convinced he was in Kennedy, Texas at a chemical plant he used to go to more than 20 years ago. He kept asking about specific people, could tell you all sorts of things about the plant, but he had no idea how old he was or what year it was.

Fortunately, neurologists took a look at him in the hospital and realized that there was something more going on than usual. They took him off of a bladder medication, and there was improvement almost immediately. The doctors were aware of the possible psychological side effects from the drugs, but they claimed it was a "necessary evil" in order to first cure his bladder. Unfortunately, they can't assure us that the damaged caused to his brain is reversible.

Ok, wow. That took a lot longer to get to the point than I thought. Oh, well.

Yesterday, I sat with my Dad through out his dialysis, which is about four hours. Normally, we can drop him off and pick him up when it's done, but that is no longer an option. The dialysis facility now requires someone to be there with him because he's started acting up towards the end of the session. It's just like the sundowning he was doing before.

My Dad's present condition is greatly improved. He knows what's going on, he remembers people, he can function pretty well. His long-term memory is great. However, he seems to have no short term memory. He has real difficulty remembering what day it is, and what he has done in the past few hours.

So, during dialysis, the first two hours go great. He's friendly and polite. He sits in the recliner, watches some TV, and often dozes off. But the last two hours, look out! Suddenly he believes that he's already been there for six hours. He insists he has to go. I have to talk to him constantly to tell him it isn't time yet. He doesn't believe me. He looks at the clock, but can't read it. I think he just makes up numbers, sometimes. He gets very angry at me, and complains that everyone is conspiring against him.

I thought I would be clever and use the timer on my watch to count down the four hours he was in dialysis. That way, he would have a constant clock showing how much time was left. Well, that backfired. When he looked at it, he forgot that it was counting down and read it as the time of day. "See!? It says 2:00! I've been here too long already!" It is very exhausting.

Later, once he's home, he calms down a bit. He gets very antsy and irritable about leaving, but once he's gone he's fine. He sleeps for a while, and forgets everything. He has no memory of complaining, arguing, or trying to get out of the chair. So the cycle starts all over again for the next time.

We are hopeful, however. The doctors tell us it can take three to six weeks for all the medication and anesthesia to leave his system. They'll do more tests on him in the future once they're sure he's clear, and then they can prescribe medicine to help his memory.

The hard part is facing the fact that he could be like this forever, or continue to decline. I have several friends who have lost their parents. My wife lost her Dad to cancer just seven years ago, and she's still not really over it. I have support when I need it. But the difference is, my father isn't actually dying. In some ways, I think that would be easier to deal with. Death is tragic and heart-wrenching, but it is also natural and inevitable. If my Dad just slowly lost his mind, his personality, his ability to function, but kept living for another 10 years, how would I deal with that? How would my Mom deal with it? These are questions that are easy to ignore when hypothetical, but very challenging when they hit close to home.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Nickels and Dimes, 2009

Well, the last quarter of 2009 was pretty rough. I have a ton of posts I'm going to put up (yes, really), but I wanted to start with something a little more fun.

A big hobby of mine that I rarely mention here is playing board games. It's a niche hobby that grows every year, and one that I'm very excited about. I won't go into more detail here, because the three people who read this blog already know all about it.

Anyway, one of the things people in our hobby like to do is review the games they've played in the last year. This is similar to a movie review site's Top Ten Films of the year list, except here we list how often we played particular games, hoping this reflects how much we like a game. "Nickels" are the ones I've played at least five times, "Dimes" at least ten.

You may have noticed the widget on the right side that shows "Recently Played" games. That comes from, a board game site that allows me to log all of my plays. So, let's get on with it, shall we?

With 22 plays (just short of a quarter), Ingenious - or, as we call it, Einfach Genial. Specifically, the Travel Edition. This is an abstract tile laying game that I really like. This was one of the last major games that took a while to come out in an English version, which is why I still prefer to call it by the German title.

The main game plays from two to four players. Each plays hexagonal, domino-type tiles with colors and shapes on them. You get points for how long a line of the same shape you can make.
The travel edition is strictly two-player. The board is a smaller, plastic grid that allows the pieces to snap in. I bought this game when I went to Oktoberfest in Munich in 2006. I introduced it to a friend of mine on the trip, and I was stunned by how much he took to it and how often we played it in biergartens during the day.

So, if it's such an old game, why is it my most played game this year? Simple. My wife loves it. She is generally a good sport about my gaming habit. She enjoys the games I teach her, but for the most part she just doesn't get into it the same way I do. This one, however, is one of the exceptions. It became an almost weekly ritual to play a best-of-three tournament of this over Sunday breakfast. To be honest, I can't remember if I logged the games individually, or just one for each session. Either way, that's a lot of games.

Fortunately, we have both burned out on it a little, so it hasn't been played as much in the second half of the year.

Next up, with 20 plays, is Dominion. This one is a much newer game, released in 2008. Looking at last year's stats, I had only six plays, which I know is due to only having first played it in late November.

This is a great little card game that offers amazing variability and interesting strategy choices every time you play. Also, once everyone is familiar with the game, it can be played quite quickly. Almost every time this is played, we play it at least twice.

This game is on a lot of people's "Most Played" list, and I expect that to be the case for a while yet. It has spawned two expansions so far (both of which can also be played independently), and I'm sure more are to come. Many people play so often that they've put each card in an individual sleeve, much like baseball card collectors. I can see how this would prolong the life of the cards, but for me, give me that good old tactical feel of regular cards.

My last "dime" this year is Backgammon, with 11 plays. I won't bother adding a picture of this well-known classic. Again, I have to attribute this one to my wife. Those 11 plays are actually down from last year (16). However, they also represent sessions, rather than actual games. Karen and I play first to five series, using the doubling cube, and playing for a quarter a point.

Overall, I think I'm ahead in Backgammon because she relies too much on lucky rolls. However, we're pretty even on Genial.

My nickels this year are not very impressive. Last year, I had five different titles just at nine plays. This year, I only have eight total in all my nickels. This makes me sad, especially when you see what they are. However, I would like to believe that this means I've played a lot more different titles this year, and not as many repeats. I certainly hope that's the case.

10 Days in Africa - 8 plays
42 - 7 plays
Harry's Grand Slam Baseball - 6 plays
GiftTrap - 6 plays
Scrabble - 6 plays
Travel Blokus - 6 plays
Hey! That's My Fish - 5 plays
Kakerlaken Poker - 5 plays

As you can see, a lot of two-player games and many "lighter" games. These are not really my preferred games. But as I try to introduce new people to these games, I'm often put in the position of teaching simpler, family-friendly, casual games.

Fortunately, I do have a regular game group which allows me to get in some of the more heavier, "meatier" games I enjoy. Well, sometimes.

Once I figure out how to gather some of my other stats, I'll add them up here. I'm not really sure how many games I've played total, or how many unique titles I played.

UPDATE: Well, I figured out my other stats by the old fashioned method of "counting and arithmetic," as my friend Peter said. I had 354 plays of 173 unique titles. That's not bad. There were 101 games I played just once, and 40 games I played twice, which seems pretty good.

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