July 6, 2007

In Memory of Sam: An Endowment Fund

The following is the text of a letter (written March 10, 2007) from John Anderson and David Corey concerning the Sam Achziger Memorial Endowment Fund.

"It was a year ago last month that Sam Achziger passed away. We are pleased to share with you the good news that an anonymous donor has started the Sam Achziger Memorial Endowment Fund at World Learning with a commitment of $25,000. The fund will provide scholarship support to motivated and deserving Experimenters starting this summer.

Sam was both a friend and mentor to both of us, and he touched the lives of generations of Experimenters, EIL Group Leaders, host families, SIT students, colleagues, friends and neighbors. He personified the spirit of The Experiment in International Living. This endowment fund will serve as a permanent memorial to Sam’s commitment to building a better world one friendship at a time. Like Sam, this fund will touch and change the lives of Experimenters and hosts around the world.

Please join us in making a gift and/or pledge to The Sam Achziger Memorial Endowment Fund. Do not hesitate to contact either one of us at the email addresses below or Tony Allen, Director The Experiment in International Living (eiltony at verizon.net - (973) 783-1965) with any questions. Thanks so much for your support."

jhnandrsn at aol.com (John Anderson)
jkgall at sover.net (David Corey)

Posted by Steph at 6:53 PM | Comments (1)

July 2, 2007

Sam's Ganges

A year ago today we scattered Sam's ashes in the Connecticut River. It was a Sunday that dawned grey and moist. Sure enough, as we waited for the captain to make the call, darker clouds rolled in, lightening flashed, thunder roared, and the rain came down. Twenty minutes later, it was over and the skies began to clear.

We embarked from The Marina, heading upriver, north toward Putney. Turning the corner where the West River meets the Connecticut, the vista of the valley opened wide before us and a heron glided to a gentle landing. Mist curled along the shoreline, the trees gleamed, the hills of Vermont and New Hampshire called us into the future. It might have been the beauty that pulled the first wave of grief out of us; how much Sam would have loved this day! Or it might have just been a sad song by Josh Groban. Whatever. :-) It was what it was: perfect.

Some of us chatted, pairs forming, breaking up, re-forming. Most of us took a turn at the front of the boat, almost leaning ahead to the site where we would pour Sam's ashes into the river, giving him back to the earth.

Lou explained that the Connecticut River marks the juncture of two tectonic plates, one that used to be part of Africa, and the one that is still North America. Somehow that struck me as a perfect analogy for Sam: someone who always sought to bridge the continents, who found ways to position himself at the juncture of cultures, languages, religions . . . any kind of socially-constructed difference imaginable. The mood of the previous day's hugely successful Celebration lingered, yet each of us was also swept in our own particular mourning.

I know I grieved for three that day, the sharpness of Sam's loss edged up to others. The near-dozen of us found comfort together, talking quietly, teasing, reminiscing, and just being in each other's presence. Those moments when it became too somber, someone would lighten us up. Jennifer, me, and Lee almost tipped overboard at one point, an occurrence we knew would have amused Sam immensely. What we all know is that Sam did not want to be remembered or memorialized on the basis of his death, but rather on the strength and legacy of his life. So we strove to live this particular voyage as we imagined he would have us do.

I do not know what kind of flowers we had with us - roses, probably. When we reached the point in the river more-or-less directly in line with Sam's Putney house, and the time felt right, we took turns with the urn, first by the handful and then with an all out upending. Next, we scattered the flowers. Everyone but Sam's sister Edith meditatively plucked the petals, tossing them into the stream of ashes, adding sparkle to the darkened current. Edith tossed hers whole - an act Sam would surely approve, and there was something about that intact rose which made the ritual perfect. I don't recall who said the spreading, drifting blossoms looked like the Ganges.

The ride back was quieter yet also somewhat lighter. We had accomplished Sam's wishes, carried out to the letter. Lee and Pat earn most of the credit for that, but everyone played the necessary parts. No one was in much of a rush to leave, and Lou and Tom did their best to keep us all as long as possible. The blessings of knowing all these people through Sam will stay with me forever.

Right before we headed up the river, while we were waiting for the storm to subside, Lee dug out a card that she had found among Sam's things in his room. Perhaps this is a figment of my imagination, but the card is addressed to no one in particular. I believe Sam left it for us, for all of us, everyone who knew him, whether or not they made it to any of the events or had not been in touch with him for howsoever long.

graci from Sam.jpg

Thanks Sam. I still catch amazingly strong whiffs of you in the slow-shifting tides of presence and memory.

Posted by Steph at 8:00 PM | Comments (1)

May 21, 2007

the best gift of all

There were five candles on my birthday cake. "What's this?" I wondered, "One for each decade?" :-) I decided that the candles symbolized five days of celebration. Truly, this has been one of the sweetest birthdays I recall. (Which is to choose NOT to go into detail about the cows I kept seeing with their tails in the air and certain good luck well wishes if you step in poop.)

We started last Wednesday: dinner with "cricket-playing Indians" and "soccer-playing Romanians." The dishes were palatable (no one got sick!) and the laughter delightful. The spirit of Sam in that salvaged margarita mix imbued us all with good cheer. (It probably didn't hurt that it is also the end of the semester.)

Thursday I felt as if my students were giving me presents, although I doubt the conceived of their final papers as anything other than basic academic obligation. Some days I wonder if the amount of gratification I receive from watching my students grow is disproportionate in comparison with all the things that make life meaningful, but the simple truth is that I am deeply pleased when they do well.

Friday was a surprise. :-) A planned camping trip was cancelled because of inclement weather, leaving me available for a spontaneous evening with a very special person. And Saturday was amazing. Just-in-Time and Very-Private-Person treated me to three-meals-in-one at the Dhaba Cafe in Boston. Food and talk, talk and food. I received phone calls, texts, emails, and thoughts throughout the day. Geez. I could hardly contain my sheepish pleasure while celebrating the Australian legacy for hours and hours Saturday night.

Sunday was sweet and mellow: a day without pressure. I could probably use a few more days like these, but then again, the contrast with the more usual, daily busy-ness of all I am called to do is part of what endows the slow days with such satisfaction.

Five days of stellar human company; you see how it gets to me?! I become more mushily sentimental all the time. :-) The confluence of all these interactions and encounters is the best gift of all: many of you did not even know it was my birthday. Proof-positive I am blessed with friends. (That, or just a damn good moocher.)

Emily-the-Strange's horrorscope changes daily, but note that the "Day of Dissonance" arrives soon!

Posted by Steph at 10:26 AM | Comments (2)

February 10, 2007

Remembering Sam

It hit me like an electric shock that it has been nearly a year since Sam died. February 12, 2006. I sat up last night re-reading most of the entries about him here, beginning in August of 2003 and continuing even past his death, as I have been reminded of him or felt his presence strongly enough to record here.

How well did I capture Sam in these writings? I worry that my identity as author outweighs the unique and delightful character that Sam chose to be. I hope not, although probably this varies from entry to entry: some are more me and some are more Sam. I wanted them all to be Sam, but so goes the craft of writing (I've a ways to go, yet).

If nothing else, the power of his influence upon me as a role model and friend comes through. His life and friendships with so many people from so many places still inspire me. His willingness to forgive friends our quirks and tolerate our idiosyncracies - not to mention poke fun at them if an opportunity arose - endeared him to us all. His own quirks seemed so minor in comparison, how he would refuse conflict and avoid disagreement whenever possible, sometimes leading to various social awkwardnesses.

I miss him.

Posted by Steph at 11:10 AM | Comments (0)

August 22, 2006

“Be hard by being tender!” [When Nietzsche Wept (part 2)]

So Dr. Breuer challenges Nietzsche. I wrote about the first six chapters a few days ago: my enthusiasm hasn’t dimmed. :-)

“We are each composed of many parts, each clamoring for expression. We can be held responsible only for the final compromise, not for the wayward impulses of each of the parts” (300).

“’One must have chaos and frenzy within oneself to give birth to a dancing star.’” (179-180). [oft-quoted, even by the Deaf community!]

“The key to living well is
first to will that which is necessary
and then to love that which is willed” (282).

“A tree requires stormy weather if it is to attain a proud height…creativity and discovery are begotten in pain” (179).

The notion of eternal recurrence (249-251) deserves its own post in the phenomenology thread (good section in wikipedia on Nietzsche's view, emphasizing the thought rather than the physical reality of an eternal return). There’s something of the dialectic/dialogic in there (see p. 84, too). It has convinced me that it is time to read the copy of Thus Spake Zarathurstra that I picked up in Berlin last summer.

More on interpretation (I extrapolate): “ a series of meanings folded into” [an object, fill in the blank] (247). “accommodating to [interlocturs’] rhythm[s]” (245), “a philosopher’s personal moral structure dictates the type of philosophy he creates…the counselor’s personality dictates his counseling approach…” (182),

On blogging (!): yearning for an audience, the loneliness of living an unobserved life.

On dreams: “’I wonder,’ Nietzsche mused, ‘whether our dreams are closer to who we are than either rationality or feelings’” (242).

On the unconscious: “Consciousness is only the translucent skin covering existence: the trained eye can see through it – to primitive forces, instincts, to the very engine of the will to power” (239).

On life: “Life is a spark between two identical voids, the darkness before birth and the one after death” (238). “Living means to be in danger” (199).

SAM: “Death loses its terror if one dies when one has consummated one’s life! If one does not live in the right time, then one can never die at the right time” (247).

“Live when you live!”
Did he ever! :-)

On memory: “Could there be such a thing as an active forgetting – forgetting something not because it is unimportant but because it is too important?” (231).

On good questions: They help one think differently. (223)

Dionysion passion: No need to live without magic, but you might ”have to change your conditions for passion” (222).

“…where philosophy falls short. Teaching philosophy and using it in life are very different undertakings” (209).

On volume: “If no one will listen, it’s only natural to shout!” (195).

On time and will: “The fact that the will cannot will backward does not mean the will is impotent! Because, thank God, God is dead – that does not mean existence has no purpose! Because death comes – that does not mean that life has no value” (190).

Nietzsche’s mission: “to save humankind from both nihilism and illusion” (140). [soon followed by this next, which I frame slightly out-of-context but what the hell]: “We’ll have to invent our procedure along the way” (141). :-)

“What matters
is what you will tell yourself
and what I will tell myself” (110).

Posted by Steph at 7:00 AM | Comments (0)

August 17, 2006

Fal bakmak

I order Turkish coffee before heading to the Arab-Israeli symphony last night.

I'm back at the World Istanbul Hostel, where people know my name. :-) Gunseli says she'll read my coffee grinds.

Of course I'm game! There are a few crucial steps, first, one must upend the cup into the saucer, and then wait. Eventually, the evidence is produced:


The sequence might matter. Gunseli read them before she showed them to me. (It felt so Harry Potter!) At any rate, she read me only positive signs:

- "there is a man with a beard...some thoughts" (am I in his? he in mine? unclear. I think first of Sam, then of The Man Who Would Be My Wife.)

- "there is a baby" which might indicate "something good . . . it's happiness"

- "there is a fairy, like a butterfly, it means luckiness"

- "there are big fishes; fishes mean money" (so far so good!)

- "there is a tree, branches, like a family, strict relationships" (hmmm . . .)

At this point Gunseli shows me the cup. I had just read an English translation of a Turkish poem, "I Thought I Could Be More", by Jennifer Highland:

The shallow bottoms are grainy with slow, dark life

I thought we were done but there was another step. I was told to keep a wish in my head while Gunseli poured off the excess liquid from the saucer:


(If only the reading is as blurry as the picture!) My wish will come true, she says, "it will be a little slow, but it will happen." One last examination and "a man with a mane like a lion," who is the same man as before (oops, definitely not TMWWBMW) will give me "a very big present or happiness."

I can't complain overmuch about my fortune, it brims with optimistism! Then Gunseli dashes the whole thing: "Only for fun!" she laughes, grinning.

Posted by Steph at 7:15 AM | Comments (0)

July 1, 2006

Ambassador to the World

Sam was also known as “Mr. Experiment” for his amazing career at The Experiment in International Living. You know you’ve accomplished something when more than 50 people come on a 4th of July weekend five and a half months after you died in order to celebrate your life.

I arrived at 1 pm sharp to the River Garden in downtown Brattleboro. There were already 20-30 people there and live music wafted through a slight breeze off the Connecticut River. Pat greeted me, “Did you bring the CDs?” Oops, left them in the car. Other greetings, nods of acknowledgment…I wanted to scoot out to get the music (to be played during the musician’s breaks) but conversations unfolded around me, drawing me in. Lee was explaining the choice of entertainment to someone: “It’s Sam’s Brazilian connection; he has a Brazilian family too.” I escaped but nature called, so I ducked into the toilet. As I sat there (!), the live Brazilian music permeated my awareness. I had a sudden flash of Sam as a young man, dancing in a fancy classical manner. I watched him linger through a few slow turns and the vision faded.

Mingling with the crowd after returning with Marvin Gaye and Josh Groban, the murmur of people talking, laughing, eating and drinking conveyed the pleasure people experienced. “Sam always brought people together, continually introducing us one to another.” People drifted from conversation to conversation…an easy flow of interaction. People were already telling stories, reminiscing, inquiring about when and how Sam had come into each other’s lives, as well as striking up new relationships and engaging anew on familiar themes. Lee called for everyone’s attention an hour or so into the event. “Sam planned this party, and provided for it. We’ve all heard of each other, so it feels like we’ve already met even if we haven’t.”

Tom immediately got in on the action: “Don’t believe everything you hear!”

Lee spoke extemporaneously based on the timeline of Sam’s life she had developed for Sam’s obituary. It seems Sam found his life’s calling while in the army. There he worked in the information and communication office. His employment history is checkered with quite an odd collection of jobs, including Filene’s Basement. “He didn’t last long,” shouted Phil, “only one Christmas season!” Sam spent a few years in California with a sailboat company run by his niece Jennifer and her first husband. “He didn’t like water and didn’t know to swim.”

But his home, the place where he laid his roots and cultivated his spirit, was in Putney Vermont at The Experiment. “ I don’t know who’s not here,” John (a.k.a. Charlie, who came from Chicago) mused, explaining that he didn’t know what to expect, who would actually be present. “It’s a great affair.” Lee continued: There were “endless parties at his house” which obviously many people in the crowd had attended, based on the number of chuckles. :-) His neighbors, Paul and Karen, spoke of hearing the parties from next door and even feeling the vibrations from bass music rocking one of their beds. Their homes are deep enough in the woods, mind you. There are more stories about these parties than anyone will ever remember. Sam took in the young people who had “social” or “adjustment” issues with their home stays, and invited numerous and myriad people over frequently: students, staff, neighbors, friends, friends-of-friends. So many people, and so often, that one month he got a phone bill totaling some $500! (This figure was disputed, perhaps it was “only” $240 – in 1970’s dollars!) There were calls to Egypt, Brazil, other countries in South America and the Middle East. Sam’s ingenious solution? He had a pay phone installed in his house! Right next to the bathroom, accompanied by a bowl for dime donations.

Sam was also terrific with kids. He was an “uncle” and refuge to Paul and Karen’s kids, taking them to the movies, driving them to school, teaching them to drive. He was a “third parent” to Chris, Lee and Greg Neary. Chris learned how to “give the finger” from Sam, a skill she delighted in using with anyone and everyone: her first display being to a school bus full of children. “My parents were thrilled.” They had driving lessons as early as seven, “No wonder,” someone’s spouse muttered in the background. Sam’s sister Edith recounted Sam coming over while Jennifer was a toddler: “Sam always brought people.” This time, the buddy Sam brought (Phil fervently denied it was him) and Sam took care of Jennifer while Edith went out. She returned to find all three of them on the sidewalk, the boys about 40 yards apart and Jennifer in the middle between them. She’d start walking towards one of the boys, who’d say, “No, no, go to him” pointing the other way. She’d turn around and start in the opposite direction and that boy would say, ‘Oh no, not this way, go to him. "Well, Edith continued, “she’d filled her pants and neither of them wanted anything to do with her!”

Lee’s list of fond characteristics was long: “When he laughed his eyes closed.” Many people recounted variations of Sam’s sudden bursts into laughter or song. “When I met Sam for the first time, I said, I’m Eric Anderson. Sam said, ‘You’re Eric Anderson? HA HA HA!’” Lee also recalled that Sam “loved to dance and would find any excuse to do it, he loved jokes (the racier the better) and eggs-over-easy, pigs-in-a-blanket (which he loved to make himself), margaritas, Tom Collins, merlot, whatever.” VW bugs, yellow or convertible, always remind Lee of Sam (another murmur of recognition), certain songs, such as What’s Going On. Chris said “there are just so many remarkable memories,” including driving golf balls off Sam’s back deck into the sheep fields below while being scored by “the Ukrainian judge” (Sam holding up a large scorecards; then everyone got one). She’d heard To Sir with Love on the way to today’s soireé, and recited this line for us: “How do you thank someone who takes you from crayons to perfume?”

Sam traveled as frequently as possible, to as many varied places as he could. Including escorting a student to Azerbaijan, “which he loved to say.” Lee can’t quite match Sam’s baritone, but her imitation worked, laughter reinforcing memory. “He sure did,” said Pat with a grin.

Phil confessed to being one of the many strays that Sam took in. Sam was excellent “at providing a haven for people who are in-between things,” he said, adding that this seemed to be characteristic of many people who worked for The Experiment. (hmmmmm…) :-) “If Sam were here, “ Tom intoned, “there would have already been some inappropriate remarks.” This echoed a comment Paul made earlier about the nametags. The backings were not so easy to remove: “Sam would have a few choice words to say about these!” “One of the things that was so endearing about Sam," continues Tom, “is that you never knew what would be next.” Someone else’s spouse learned this after meeting some new people through Sam, who ended his introduction with a reference to a particular virgin experience at Watt Pond. (ahem)

Eric (who came from Switzerland!) described his visits to Sam at Eden Park. His first visit was in October of 2002, when Sam had been there about a year. Sam was intent on a video when Eric entered but immediately turned it off and they talked for an hour. Eric explained that he usually stopped by the receptionist’s desk on his way out, and commented that he “always left with an uplifted spirit. I told her, I’ve just been visiting with Sam Achziger and my spirit is uplifted!” She responded, “A lot of people say that.” It wasn’t just Sam’s visitors whose spirits were uplifted. Sam hosted a Thursday night drink-a-thon with the nursing staff (some of whom may even have overimbibed!) They got to see Sam’s racy side, and loved it, loved him. Mary and Coco came today, it was good to see them. Sam’s personality, sense-of-humor, and deep humanism wasn’t altered at all: either by moving into a nursing home or coping with the declining ability to move parts of his own body or even speak.

“As he was able to say fewer and fewer words, Sam would save his energy for the really important ones.” Robin and Dave couldn’t recall the context, but they do remember Sam saying “balls" so clearly that they were shocked, “he couldn’t really mean that, could he?” Oh yes he could! There were a couple of anecdotes about the frustration of not being able to understand him during the last months of his life. Eric recalls telling Sam, “I’m leaving now,” and struggling multiple times to catch Sam’s response. He finally went to the nurse’s station for help. She hunkered down and put her ear right next to Sam’s mouth and finally got it, he was saying, “Ok.” Pat had a similar story, referring to Sam’s wonderful attitude. At the end of one visit, Pat told Sam, “We’re leaving now. We’re worried about you but we know you’re ok.” Again, it required several repetitions to understand Sam’s response: “I’m fine.” But that was how he was: he never wanted anyone to worry about him, he wanted us all to know he really was fine.

Tom finally had enough of not being able to communicate with Sam and told him, “You’re Helen Keller and I’m Annie Sullivan.” Tom figured out how to construct a letter board with the letters arranged on the basis of frequency. So the top row included the most commonly used letters, the second the next most-commonly used, and so on through five lines. The day Tom took it for Sam to try out, he explained its use. “I point to the first row and you indicate ‘yes’ the letter is in that row, or ‘no’ the letter is not in that row.” By this time, Sam’s ability to convey his yes/no response was through a slightly delayed and subtle hand squeeze. “If the row is a ‘yes’ then I go across the row until I get a ‘yes’ for the right letter.” After explaining this, they try it out. Tom points at the first row, no. The second? Yes. The first letter? No. Until he lands on F. The audience roared. (So much for unpredictability!) Tom continues, replaying the entire scenario, just as he and Sam did on that day. This row? This letter? U. The audience laughed harder. Next letter? C. Some people are already laughing so hard they’ve got tears in their eyes. Next? K. Do you think Sam was done? No. Is there another letter? Y. O. U. The applause that followed was sheer pleasure at the power of Sam’s inimitable spirit and the joy of having shared such friendships with him.

There were tears, of course. Folks held them in as best they could (even though everyone murmured that it was ok to cry). Lee reminded us, “This is meant to be a happy affair. Sam wanted to have food, music, drinks and all of us here. He wants us to remember that we’re all connected to each other.” Jesse continued playing beautiful Brazilian music throughout, complementing the sound and feel of each person’s voice and words, contributing to the overall mood.

During the last several months of his life, one of the things that gave Sam the most pleasure was a remote-controlled fart machine, given to him by Tom – who tried to foist it off on Paul, or maybe it was Paul trying to get some guilt to stick on Tom? My notes are unclear, either way seems possible. :-) This technologically-advanced whoopee cushion emitted 12-14 different fart sounds. Sam could use it to interrupt a conversation or get people's attention any time he wanted. They mounted it on the back of his wheelchair and premiered it with Barbara Dirks, who – upon the blast – said, “Sam’s stomach must be upset.” Late one night, Tom got a call at home from an aide at Eden Park. “The fart machine won’t stop!” The laughter was practically continuous by this point, with dips and rises in volume. “We took the battery out and it’s still going!” Tom went to the rescue; it turned out they’d only taken the battery out of the remote, not the actual fart-producing unit. The nurse had listened to it continually while feeding Sam his dinner. Now I know why it stopped working!

When Sam died, the Eden Park newsletter that Sam founded ran the announcement and changed the name of the newsletter to

Sam Achziger News.jpg

When Lee announced this, there was sustained applause from everyone present, which also included the newlyweds (by five weeks) who became engaged in Sam’s room with him as a witness last Christmas Eve.

Eric shared something with us about Sam’s name that he said he’d just figured out. In German, "acht means eight, achtzig means eighty, and achtziger means “'a person in their eighties.'” Sam Achziger would have been 81 this past Wednesday. Paul’s toast characterized all of our times with Sam: “We shared and enjoyed his life and spirit, we’re here to toast his life and spirit.” Anne, who never met Sam, said, “I’ve heard so much about him, it’s almost like I knew him. There are so many wonderful stories. It’s a bit like a Polish wake. You get together to pay your respects and then you go in back and reminisce, tell stories. It’s a celebration and that’s exactly what this is. I’ve enjoyed it.”

John agreed: “It’s what today is supposed to be.”

Lee was doing the rounds, “Last call for alcohol!"

Josh Groban crooned in the background.

People continued to mingle . . .

Posted by Steph at 6:55 PM | Comments (3)

June 11, 2006

A Remembrance of Sam


Posted by Steph at 8:13 AM | Comments (0)

May 15, 2006

remembering Sam

I saw a friend recently who asked about my relationship with Sam. She never met him, just read about him here: "He seems like a really neat guy. Reminds me of Tuesdays with Morrie." Sam would be so pleased. :-) He read the book right after he moved into the nursing home (2001), and shared it with as many people as he could. Sam was my uncle: chosen family, not blood. We had a hell of a connection, he and I. He met my dad while the two were in college, was at my parent's wedding, knew me as a child. When my parents moved us from the northeast to Colorado when I was 3 1/2, we would see Sam once or twice a year when he came to visit family (apparently sneaking in a visit with us in Denver before heading to their neck of the woods).

When I was 13, my family moved to Florida, and that was the end of visits with Sam. The end, that is, until I moved to Vermont in 1993, almost 20 years later. Dad must have told Sam I was coming, because a month or so before I arrived I received a phone call from Sam, and once I'd settled in I made my way out to (re)meet him at the Putney Diner. I knew things about Sam that he didn't know other people knew (or that he'd forgetten they might know). As we navigated those potentially treacherous waters, the depths of his integrity shined brighter than anyone I've ever met. Literally - before or since. Sam and I were kin in ways I've never experienced with anyone else, including my blood family, including lovers and friends.

He was such a role model. The most powerful thing he ever said to me was that he had decided "to love generally and not specifically." The thing about Sam, though, was that he didn't just say things. He lived them. I often wondered when and how he learned that lesson and made that choice. I guess he was somewhat younger than my present age, although it is possible he always knew. He was wise about the value of pleasure and made it a point to make people happy. He never let on how much energy it takes! Well, that's not entirely true. :-) He might admit it, but the admission was never an actual complaint - it was a descriptive statement of his experience. The expenditure of energy didn't deter him, even if it wore him out he would persist. He never forgot how much it matters to make the most of every moment no matter what the emotional state of the people with whom he shared it. Even me! "He never shared the misery," Pat said, the day we cleared out the last of Sam's things from the nursing home.

I'm not so solidly put-together, but I hold forth the hope that by starting now there's a chance (small as it may be!) that by the time I'm 80 I'll also be able to live as fully and lovingly and irreverently as Sam. Yes, they all three go together. :-)

I miss him, and - I have his LiveStrong bracelet (thanks Lee!) and much of his music. Plus the memories and the example. When I struggle, I consider "what would Sam do"? I've not got his gift for saying the incongruous thing that makes everyone laugh, but I'm pretty sure I've got a wee bit of his spirit floating around in me. I'm positive I'm not the only one. Some of my friends, and Sam's grand nieces and nephews have been posting their own remembrances. He wasn't perfect, but he was closer to it than most.

Posted by Steph at 6:50 PM | Comments (2)

March 23, 2006

missing him :-(

Until we are able to scatter Sam's ashes as he requested, over the Connecticutt River Valley, they remain in a vase that belonged to his mother.


Posted by Steph at 5:40 PM | Comments (0)

March 5, 2006

Sam Achziger

June 28, 1925 - February 12, 2006

The official obituary for Sam appeared this weekend in the Brattleboro Reformer. It is also printed in the local paper in Longmont, Colorado.

Sam's Obit Photo.jpg

Most of my visits with him over the last three years are recorded here. A timeline of major events in his life is here.

Posted by Steph at 8:22 AM | Comments (8)

February 24, 2006

Missing Sam :-(

It's a weird sense of presence - his absence. I note things I want to tell him, catch myself thinking about the next visit ... remember odds and ends, tidbits of memories from this story or that anecdote. Received emails from various folk, "Sam's People". He put so much fun and love and all-around good feelings into circulation. :-)

The formal obituary with details of his life will be submitted to the papers soon. Lee asked me for some kind of something...what I wrote doesn't follow the obituary format so probably won't be included:

Sam left this life as he lived it – quietly and without inconveniencing anyone. His heart was huge and his needs modest: good wine, good friends, and lots of laughter. Sam had his foibles, no doubt, but he never lost sight of the things that matter most, such as dealing with the immediate, listening well, dropping a well-timed joke, encouraging people to get along, pointing out the sheer absurdity of life’s many twists and turns. “Twas ever thus!” he would pronounce. If he liked something it was “bitchin’”, and if he didn’t you’d find out about it sooner or later (unless he thought it would hurt your feelings, then he wouldn’t say). Sam had a talent for appreciating the struggles everyone faces in life. He had a great deal of empathy and compassion – it was never hard for him to imagine himself in your position and comment on some redeemable - or absurd! - aspect of it. Not that he was saintly! His irreverence is probably what most endeared him to the many people fortunate enough to know him. Life is often inexplicable or ridiculous: Sam flirted with this boundary whenever he could – playing practical jokes and expressing his affection through an incongruous mixture of teasing, innuendo, and outright confrontation. He appreciated what he received from people, and never looked back on his conscious choice to love generally rather than specifically.

Never married, Sam’s chosen family spans the globe, extending from friends and colleagues in Massachusetts and Vermont, blood relatives in California and Colorado, old college buddies in Washington State, to his Brazilian family and countless other host families in a dozen or more countries throughout South America and all across Europe. Sam got around! He wanted nothing less than for others to also experience the joys of connecting across national and cultural differences.

Posted by Steph at 9:40 AM | Comments (0)

February 17, 2006

goat test

Six Rapscallions gathered again at La Guarida last night to dissect The Constant Gardener. A seventh left before the movie, not wanting to "ruin it" for the rest of us by talking through it. As if! Some of us struggled with the British brogue and the low/muffled sound of much of the dialogue. After the first rewind and debriefing (in which it was determined only 30% of us "caught it" the first time around) we turned on the captioning. Oh my.

There were too many examples (talk about an object for analysis!), but "She adored Tessa" becoming "the goat test" is near the top of the list. Not to mention him being "large of house" instead of "large of heart". I was reminded of the old Deaf School communal activity of watching movies before there was any captioning at all. I'd have loved to have seen some of the reenactments! The kids in the dorm would watch an entire film and then invent the storyline, plot, and dialogue. Apparently, the stories they came up with were always better than the "actual" movie. :-)

Anyway, I personally thought "Gardener" was well done on all the other counts. I'm surprised at the range of like/dislike in the reviews. I was thoroughly corraled (!) when I wanted to explore the blatant racism that is the structural feature which enables taking the movie as "just a movie" - distracted as audiences often are by classic depictions of romance and heroism. "Let's watch a happy movie next time!" I don't mean it as a barb - clearly we all knew and reacted to the grim parts of pharmaceutical company/government collusion. The power of the movie is, I think, how insidiously it both depicts a continuing political economy of profiting through racism and insulates us from it with familiar tropes.

I don't know how "happy" North Country is, we determined that it will be released in time for the next gathering. Meanwhile, can you guess which of our hosts shaved his head? Which one wants to have short curly hair? Which guest displayed handstand talents and almost created a new breakfast nook? Who thinks soap is inadequate to wash dirt off spoons? Who's been banned from eating cake? PS - the alpha male's room was inadvertently on display. And wouldn't you know, there was the exact same Picasso print of Don Quixote that Sam had forever and ever and ever. :-)

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February 16, 2006

A Job Well Done

So said my fortune from Chinese dinner on Tuesday night. Lee, Pat, Phil, Lorraine and I completed the clean-out of Sam's belongings yesterday. The weather could not have been more congenial for moving. Did Sam plan it all? :-)

The staff at Eden were wonderful. Many came in to share condolences and reminesce: his editorship of the newsletter and presidency of the resident's council, all the teases (too too many to recount!), his attention to detail and concern for fairness. "It will never be the same," one aide said. Several folks from Eden are working on tributes to Sam for the next newsletter; I'll share that when it comes out.

Sam's largest plant was placed in the downstairs windowbay, by the lobby. May it thrive.

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February 15, 2006

"Want a banana for your monkey?"

"Peace is a fabric and people must work their way into the fabric," says Sam. One man cannot make world peace by himself, but he can find inner peace without the help of others.

~ Inscribed on the back of this double exposure by Evan when he was as middleschooler at Hilltop Montessori. The deck is the upstairs balcony at Sam's home in Putney.

Sam double exposure.jpg

And here's an old photo of Sam with all his siblings. Sam would be the one rubbing his eye. Such a cutie-pie!!

Sam's body was cremated today. Lee dressed him up all spiffy, and included three pinecones from the land around his Putney home and a few other special tidbits.

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February 13, 2006

Circle of Sam

He couldn't have choreographed it better, leaving on a wintry Vermont night under the full moon. Lee didn't know that Sam had told me way back that he wanted to leave listening to Mahler - she mentioned to me that she'd taken some CDs over to the hospital and that was one of them. It all just came together. I hadn't remembered this until Lee said how much Sam loved Mahler - it sparked that memory from Sam's first year in the nursing home, when we spent so much time talking about death.

I spent several hours with Lee at Eden Park. She's been taking care of business: paperwork, at the funeral home, serving as the communication node for everyone, and sorting through his stuff. One of the nurses, Sue, came in. She was on vacation last week. It was hard on the staff here that Sam went over to the hospital because they weren't able to say goodbye. It was the right decision under the circumstances, but hard all the way around. Dani and Paul came in and we toasted Sam, remembered many special moments. We listened to Marvin Gaye. Danced. Laughed. Just like Sam would want us to. Paul said, "He didn't want nobody to feel bad for him!" Lee described Sam's parties - how "he always wanted all of his friends to be friends with each other: the circle of Sam."

There are so many memories in this room, with Sam's belongings. I remember painting his wheelchair - we made it groovy. :-) That first year I visited every Wed night after hours (!), and we'd talk and hang and talk and laugh. Sometimes we'd watch movies - his favorite of all time, The Princess Bride. We once gave him Nosey Parker. Some ofher movies we enjoyed together: Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Fight Club... and then the music. Josh Groban, Johnny Adams, Annie Lennox, Gregorian chant, opera, blues, on-and-on...so much happiness here.

Lee hasn't taken the paintings down yet. It's odd to walk in here and feel Sam and know he's gone. He sure claimed this room! His energy's still in it, in his things and the memories they spark. In us.

Posted by Steph at 8:40 PM | Comments (0)

Fighting Xenophobia

The Immigrant Solidarity Network is organizing protests TOMORROW against upcoming repressive anti-immigration legislation.

Specifically, protests in Pennsylvania tomorrow will try to raise public awareness about H.R. 4437 Sensenbrenner-King, which passed the House of Representatives last December. According to the email I received, the bill will

"***make any relative, employer, student, coworker, co-congregant, or friend of an undocumented immigrant into an “alien smuggler” and a criminal. The legislations “smuggling” provisions go way beyond any common sense definition of a “smuggler,” and include average people going about their business. For example, it makes criminals out of the: soccer mom who drives her neighbors to the grocery store, the local ESL teacher, the neighbors who has a live-in nanny, landscapers who drive workers to jobs, etc.

***To make 11 million undocumented immigrants-and legal immigrants who have temporary status problems-into criminals that local police can arrest.

***To make it harder for legal permanent residents to become citizens

***To turn state and local police into immigrant agents.

***To require employers to verify workers’ legal status, without providing access to legal workers through immigration reform."

Sam used to recall the discrimination, verbal epithets, vandalism and threats of violence his family experienced as immigrants when he was a boy. Maybe that's one of the factors that played into his deep conviction that people are people and borders are a nuisance at best and a curse at worst. His interest in politics never flagged, although he was more prone to just go out and help people become friends rather than engage in direct collective action. He would support and encourage us to do it, though, wanna bet? (If anyone knows of his participation in public rallies like this I'd sure like to learn about them. Did he have a civic action phase?)

Posted by Steph at 11:44 AM | Comments (0)

February 12, 2006

Peacefully, in his sleep

“He’s gone, Steph.” Lee's voice was thick just before 7 am this morning. "A nurse came in at 4:30 and told me." Lee had dozed off in the hospital bed next to Sam, who hadn't really been "with it" since her arrival yesterday. He had been responsive when the Eden staff made the decision to send him to BMH but Lee's not sure he was aware of her presence - at least, he was no longer able to give any signs. His decline began during the night shift Thursday night/Friday morning. Lee told me last night about the excellent care Sam was getting from the staff at Brattleboro Memorial; she was glad he was there being ministered to so attentively.

An email from Pat late last night said Lee "is his angel for now til he gets to the real ones..."

It will take a while for scheduling any kind of event. Sam had some specifications about what he did/didn't want...have to work those out.

Lee was imagining Sam in his VW, driving around Vermont, wearing jeans, and getting out to walk around with his hands in his pockets.

I remember our last few conversations, in which he expressed gratitude for our friendship, and told me to "get on with your life." Of course, that is what he will want us all to do. Lee summed it up: "A lot of people loved him. He will be missed."

Posted by Steph at 11:10 AM | Comments (9)

February 11, 2006

medieval history

when Lee and I were going through these slides with Sam, I had the weirdest moment....that looks like my mom, that's my dad! Those are my parents! In the backyard of our house in Denver. :-) It might have been Sam's last visit before we moved to Florida...circa 1976.

mom&dad in Denver.jpg

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more pix of Sam and Co

Captain Neary appears as a young 'un in this photo with Sam and a family in ... Turkey? I forget. Lee knows!

brazilian family.jpg

Alvino, is this you? We weren't sure and Sam's vision isn't clear enough to tell...

And here's a great shot of Sam in his Putney living room.

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UTI #3

Well all, Sam's back in the hospital with another urinary tract infection. They have not been kind to him. Send thoughts. Meanwhile, enjoy these pix:

Sams lumberjack.jpg

Sam's dog.jpg

Young Sam blurred. Lee and I had fun checking out the hairstyles, glasses, and other fashion trends. :-)

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February 4, 2006


I know those of you who know Sam will not be surprised, but he's going to give a strong and unyielding show 'til the end.

I tried to upload the slides tonight but there's some technicality I can't quite figure out. Darn.

Anyway, I saw him yesterday. Just as I arrived, Tom was leaving. We met in the parking lot, and he explained he's created a letter board for Sam that has the letters listed in order from most used to least. Sam's first words? "Fuck Me."

I needed a lesson though, as Sam and I struggled to use the durn thing. I should say, I struggled. It was uncomfortable to feel myself being mother hen-ish trying to confirm that a particular letter was a "yes" or a "no". :-( Eventually, I did get the beginnings of what Sam wanted to tell me, but by then about two hours had passed. In the meantime, he squeezed my hand to let me know he still thought I was alright, even I was a bit slow with the letter board. :-) He's still Sam.

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January 24, 2006

Now: Jennifer

Sam's niece arrived earlier this afternoon and has been ministering to Sam nonstop since - ruffling his hair, pumping Pepsi into him, regaling him with stories of her recent exploits in the home of five (male) college students. Ahem! ;-) They're reminiscing about "vodika's".

Bill sends an email claiming Sam has always had "breathing problems" and it's about time they've started to improve. "When we lived together on Dravus in Seattle back in the 50's you didn't sound long for this world most of the time."

Luciano Pavarotti is on now; not quite on a par with the Dave Brubeck albums of yore.

Big grins re the peacock joke forwarded by my best partner-in-crime:

I was at the mall the other day eating at the food court. I noticed an old man watching a teenager Sitting next to him. The teenager had spiked hair in all different colors: green, red, orange, and blue. The old man kept staring at him.

The teenager would look and find the old man staring every time.
When the teenager had enough, he sarcastically asked, "What's the matter old man, never done anything wild in your life?"

The old man did not bat an eye in his response, "Got drunk once and had sex with a peacock. I was just wondering if you were my son?"

He also enjoyed these statements from a project on "The Sea", in which kids from various classes were asked to draw pictures or write about their experiences. Teachers got together to compare the  results and put together some of the comments.

 1. This is a picture of an octopus. It has eight testicles. (Kelly age 6)

 2. Some fish are  dangerous. Jellyfish can sting. Electric eels can give you a shock. They have to live in caves under the sea where I think they have to plug themselves to  chargers. (Christopher age 7)

 3. Oysters' balls are called pearls. (James age 6)

 4. If you are surrounded by sea you are an Island. If you don't have sea all around you, you are incontinent. (Wayne age 7)

 5. I think sharks are ugly and mean, and have big teeth, just like Emily Richardson. She's not my friend no more. (Kylie age 6)

 6. A dolphin breathes through an  asshole on the top of it's head. (Billy age 8)

 7. My uncle goes out in  his boat with pots, and comes back with crabs. (Millie age 6)

 8. When  ships had sails, they used to use the trade winds to cross the ocean. Sometimes,  when the wind didn't blow, the sailors would whistle to make the wind come. My  brother said they would be better off eating beans. (William age 7)

 9. I  like mermaids. They are beautiful, and I like their shiny tails. How do mermaids  get pregnant? (Helen age 6)

 10. When you go swimming in the sea, it is  very cold, and it makes my willy small. (Kevin age 6)

Posted by Steph at 4:08 PM | Comments (1)

January 22, 2006

Lee's turn

Lee is up visiting Sam this weekend, she arrived Friday evening and will leave sometime later today. See her comment (in which - among other things - she corrects my confusing roses for carnations - Lou, now you have proof of my gardening "skill" grin). During my hour visit yesterday, she showed a bunch of slides from way way back in Sam's life. They were wonderful! We selected a few for me to upload here for you all to enjoy. I'll get to that this upcoming week.

Meanwhile, just before I arrived Jim Levinson was there and sang an Indian song for Sam. Jim was part of an Experiment trip to India many, many years ago - in fact Lou & Tom met Jim there, in India, not where they all live in Vermont! Small world 'tis. Jim gave Sam an "eternal good luck charm" that has a picture of Gandhi on one side and this inscription on the other:

"My life is my message."

Sam exemplifies this more than anyone else I know. :-)

Posted by Steph at 11:27 AM | Comments (0)

January 19, 2006

perking up!

Sam's doing much better - out of pain, not on pain meds, responsive and interactive with me this evening. ;-) He loves the love coming from everyone - especially his Brazilian family, and good friends from SIT, not to mention those old college buddies. We talked a bit about his state of mind, and I'm pleased to report he's still set on living. :-)

Big grins at some of these: As I've Matured. Another of the biggest grins was when I explained to Paul the Proposer that it took me 20 minutes to figure out Sam wanted the oxygen mask off. We're all (I guess?) practicing transmuting frustration to patience and humor.

Sam seems to want to be listening to music much of the time. We listened to Josh Groban (I didn't cry until Vincent (Starry Starry Night, sigh - I'm such a sop!) and Johnny Adams. Sam also is really into touch, so if you can hold his hand he'll be happy. Giving squeezes for yes is also one of his main modes of communicating now. Sometimes he winks but these are occasionally hard to distinguish from regular blinking. Other times he actually nods or shakes his head. Some of the cues are so subtle as to be almost invisible, but if you confirm them you're good.

Want to know what made Sam laugh out loud? What to do when the neighbor's music is too loud.

His lovely yellow carnations from Christine are still going strong; and he enjoyed his visit with Pat immensely. With all of my inadequate psychic skills, I think Sam says, "Keep it coming!" :-)

Posted by Steph at 7:13 PM | Comments (1)

January 18, 2006

sitting vigil with the buddha

Spent several hours yesterday afternoon/evening sitting with Sam, the "Buddha" as he's known among the nursing staff. His energy was lower in the afternoon, and I admit, I was shy to push him too much. Then Lou and Tom arrived and that was the end of that! Wine (not for Sam, yet - he got ice cream), Andrew Lloyd Webber, jokes from Jennifer....more ugly jokes about Sam too. :-) But Lou says Sam's looking better, even though he has a bit of edema especially in his left arm.

I've heard references to Sam's picture with Einstein before....I guess Tom took the actual photo of Sam standing next to a bust in DC. Does someone have this picture? I'm sure there must have been some surrounding context that makes this story such a repeater. Lou said Sam's pulse was steady and a bit slower than the previous day, so his heart's not working quite as hard as it was when he still had a fever. No fever now. But he slept alot, Tom stayed through a chunk of the afternoon, and two Pauls came by in the evening: Sam's longterm pal & neighbor Paul, and the recently engaged Paul. A festive mood filled the room. :-)

Posted by Steph at 10:04 AM | Comments (1)

January 17, 2006

an ugly pill

Tom told Sam he needed to stop with the ugly pills already. :-) He's awake and alert this morning, even though communicating is difficult. He's grinned, nodded, shook his head, eyeblinked 'yes', and squeezed my hand.

Posted by Steph at 9:12 AM | Comments (7)

January 16, 2006

"I forget he's dying."

Elizabeth said this to me when we had dinner last week. And just now, museumfreak said, "He always sounds so lively in your blogposts."

Sam is lively. He always has been. Even at his most ill or frustrated, he invested his words, thoughts, and actions in LIFE and LIVING.

He was released from the hospital back to Eden Park this afternoon; feedings through the g-tube are working just fine. However, he has contracted an infection that is worrisome and the nurses have said, "he doesn't seem to be doing well."

I'll spend time with Sam tomorrow and - if he's awake and alert - read him any blogcomments and emails you send. I doubt I'll be as brave as Christine was and actually crawl in bed with him (!), but if I can sit across his feet like I did at Xmas it'll be a cozy way to convey the love.

Posted by Steph at 7:15 PM | Comments (4)

January 12, 2006

g-tube success!

Sam's currently in recovery from the anasthesia (they had to put him all the way under), but they were able to insert the g-tube and all seems well.


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January 10, 2006

speaking and planning

I was delighted to arrive today and find Sam up and able to talk well enough that I could understand him without too many requests for him to repeat himself. I repeated everything back to him, to make sure I understood. When I was mistaken he would just stare at me in silence and then I'd guess, or not, and eventually he'd try again. He even snacked on the impractical treats I brought (brie, eggplant dip and tortilla chips): "I love it!" he said. :-)

We had a pretty intense conversation, going over his will, what he wants bequeathed to whom, where he wants his body donated, what kind of celebration he wants us to have in his honor and to generate closure on our relationships with him. More details forthcoming.

Looks like Sam will have a bit of surgery this Thursday to insert a g-tube; just to accommodate the challenges he has swallowing. He did have a fluid IV for a couple of days - had gotten dehydrated but "plumped up" real quick as soon as he got those fluids restored. This last round (of cold/infection and disease progression) took him for a ride, that's for sure.

Paul, the infamous fiancee, hung with us for a bit. He's a mechanic, and didn't think the mechanic's joke (following) was funny, but laughed at a bunch of the others.

We only got through some of the email; sorry if we didn't get to yours yet. :-/ I did read Sam one snail mail Xmas letter from Dick Bisbee - Sam seemed surprised about the defibrillator but is glad all seems well. As always, Sam loves the jokes and your news. The favorite of those we read so far? The Bannister of Life (esp. #s 3, 4 and 5) and Bird Flu.

The Bannister of Life

1. Jim Baker and Jimmy Swaggert have written an impressive new book. It's called "Ministers Do More Than Lay People."

2. Transvestite: A guy who likes to eat, drink and be Mary.

3. The difference between the Pope and your boss...the Pope only expects you to kiss his ring.

4. My mind works like lightning. One brilliant flash and it is gone.

5. The only time the world beats a path to your door is if you're in the bathroom.

6. I hate sex in the movies. Tried it once. The seat folded up, the drink spilled and that ice, well, it really chilled the mood.

7. It used to be only death and taxes were inevitable. Now, of course, there's shipping and handling, too.

8. A husband is someone who, after taking the trash out, gives the impression that he just cleaned the whole house.

9. My next house will have no kitchen - just vending machines and a large trash can.

10. A blonde said, "I was worried that my mechanic might try to rip me off. I was relieved when he told me all I needed was turn signal fluid."

11. I'm so depressed. My doctor refused to write me a prescription for Viagra. He said it would be like putting a new flagpole on a condemned building.

12. My neighbor was bit by a stray rabid dog. I went to see how he was and found him writing frantically on a piece of paper. I told him rabies could be treated, and he didn't have to worry about a Will. He said, "Will? What Will? I'm making a list of the people I want to bite."

13. Definition of a teenager? God's punishment for enjoying sex.

14. As we slide down the banister of life, may the splinters never point the wrong way.

Bird Flu

Symptoms of the BIRD FLU...The Center for Disease Control has released a list of symptoms of bird flu. If you experience any of the following, please seek medical treatment immediately:
1. High fever
2. Congestion
3. Nausea
4. Fatigue
5. Aching in the joints
6. An irresistible urge to shit on someone's windshield

Posted by Steph at 6:24 PM | Comments (1)

December 31, 2005


Well. I spent the evening (last night) with my father, who introduced me to his girlfriend and treated us to dinner at Mi Ranchito (it was yummy).

There were a number of reflective moments (!), a fair amount of joking, and basic information sharing. I learned more about the details of the automobile accident last year, that they thought dad's spleen had ruptured and almost took it out, they almost didn't let Shirley in to see him, etc.

It gave us the opportunity to talk about a health care proxy and end-of-life wishes. He wants to be cremated, but I pressed on details prior to that: what about heroic measures to extend your life? "I don't want to be in a vegetative state hooked up to a bunch of tubes." I asked him about that time in critical condition after the wreck...did he ever want it to end or feel it was over? "Oh no." He explained he was vaguely aware of things happening around him, and Shirley confirmed there was evidence he was 'still there'. Dad said at no time did he feel that it was time to go. I asked, so if there's any consciousness then you want to hang in? "Of course."

Dad doesn't seem to be at any imminent risk, he's 74, still gets out into the world just about every day. One has to grab these moments when one can, though, because who knows what might happen and then how do you decide? The legal paperwork is called Advance Directives, and the regulations vary by state.

While we were at dad's place I noticed an audiotape from my childhood, Nilsson's "The Point", which dad let me borrow for the ride back east. I remember listening to it on roadtrips when I was growing up, but don't think I ever understood it. "That is one of the highlights of my life," dad said. "It's a wonderful allegory set to music."

Then he dug up a CD of the Ophelia Ragtime Orchestra. "They're all Norwegian!" It's the first time I'm aware of dad celebrating his roots. He says it's of the same type as "The Point." The song, Sheik of Araby, "says it all."

Can I learn how to add sound?

Posted by Steph at 10:30 AM | Comments (1)

December 25, 2005

a happy delay

Sam's doing great this morning, although he says he can't talk. He has managed a few words. Was trying to tell me something about the painting of the woman in reddish-pink and orange with her head slumped heavily in her hand, elbow on her knee....she looks either exhausted or frustrated or both. Heavy. I'm guessing this is Sam's morning ritual, to peruse his paintings and contemplate whatever they inspire.

We fiddled around with the communication board a little bit. Added "bitchin" as per Larry (talk about a big grin from Sam!), and "channel" to the tv portion. There are many detail questions Sam gets asked in the course of the day; I need more exposure to them to gather the pattern and imagine what might work on the board. Right now its rudimentary and folks don't seem to be using it. Instead there is a yes=one blink no=two blinks system - but it has difficulties too. First, you have to ask a simple yes/no question (no options!), then you have to wait, then ask another one. Sam's a puzzle sometimes: is he not answering because the question is so far away from what he wants that it doesn't even seem worth it? Is he still thinking if yes/no will get him closer to what he wants? Or is he so tired that he forgets to answer? Or feels he has exerted the effort to answer but it's not detectable to us?

Anyway. There was BIG Romance in the room last night, as a boyfriend of one of the nurse's aides' came by during her workshift and proposed, right here in Sammy's room! It was before I arrived, but the story is she planned to propose to him today, but he beat her to it. He said, "I know Sammy wants to marry you but I've got the ring." :-) Sam has always been a positive influence on couples, at least, he always brought out my better parts. One of Sam's gifts is that he gives permission to love and cultivates an environment or atmosphere for it.

I'll be heading out soon for the roadtrip. Sam's recovered, more or less, and isn't having any premonitions of his impending demise. There's a chance that this problem with his speech - which also affects his ability to swallow - might be the thing that does him in, but if he goes while choking we agreed the only way anyone's going to get here is by Scotty beaming us in. Too bad transporter technology is still only in the experimental stages. :-/

Long and short, all's well here in Eden Park on Christmas morn. Sam sends his love and season's greetings to all. He also asks you to feel free to email him directly (please understand that he only reads his email with help, and that usually means only when Steph visits, which varies):

achziger at adelphia.net

Don't forget to replace "at" with @

Posted by Steph at 9:17 AM | Comments (0)

December 24, 2005


Hey all, only just got on the Mass Pike heading to Albany when I found out how ill Sam has been. He says he wasn't scared, but I don't think he was thrilled to be alone. Anyway, he's in good spirits tonight, was watching Twister when I arrived, after having been up and out listening to carols earlier. We watched it together for awhile, then turned off the tube and checked in. His voice is only at a whisper, but he was understandable, especially for the first few words. His enunciation fades then and sometimes i couldn't understand him. :-/ He's getting good care and attention from the staff; lots of affection. Connie says, "Sam's got some of the finest friends. Everybody loves Sam."

We did email for an hour or more....trying to get caught up on the backlog of jokes and news. He laughed really hard at some; I've pasted in a few that got the most response below.

Know how to prevent sagging? Just eat till the wrinkles fill out.

It's scary when you start making the same noises as your coffee maker.

Senior to Senior

Two elderly gentlemen from a retirement center were sitting on a bench under a tree when one turns to the other and says, "Sam, I'm 83 yearsold now and I'm just full of aches and pains. I know you're about my age. How do you feel?"
Sam says, "Well, I feel just like a new-born baby."
"Really!? Like a baby!?"
"Yep. No hair, no teeth, and I think I just wet myself.

12 Days of Modern Christmas

Posted by Steph at 8:57 PM | Comments (0)

December 19, 2005

"it figures"

Sam says, as he dozes off and I'm finally here for a visit! Poor guy - looks exhausted. He's been partying hard - Lee, Christine, Phil & Lorraine have all been here recently, and Jennifer and Edith were here a few weeks ago. But he's tired today because he missed his nap this morning. I'm gonna hang out for a bit see if he gets recharged/wakes up before I have to zoom on to the next thing.

He did tell me that he got to call Mangeca and Jess Smith; obviously he was thrilled to get to do that. :-)

Posted by Steph at 1:53 PM | Comments (0)

November 11, 2005

progress . . .

Talked with the Head Nurse today; she's going to look into a special vest or some other "approved" piece of restraint equipment. Then we'll get to the official paperwork. there's a standard form but of course we'll doctor it as necessary to make it work. We also talked about a communication board ... she'll check out what's available, but I'm thinking we might make a custom one for Sam. Of course it's got to have the practical stuff on it, but there's all kind of sayings unique to Sam I was thinking we might add in. Please add any ideas you have.... I was going to play with spelling to say "Yuck Fou" and also "Yank Thou" (Thank You) so he can indicate disgust and gratitude, as relevant. Whaddaya ya'all think? Sam said, "I think it's wonderful!" So do send us whatever you think we need to include. ;-)

Sam's favorite joke today was from Nona; honorable mention to the one from David about "never hearing the end of farting in an echo chamber"):

How'd you break your arm?

Even if you aren't a skier, you'll be able to appreciate the humor of the slopes as written by a
New Orleans paper:

A friend just got back from a holiday skiing trip to Utah with the kind of story that warms the cockles of anybody's heart.

Conditions were perfect...12 below, no feeling in the toes, basic numbness all over...the "Tell me when
we're having fun" kind of day. One of the women in the group complained to her husband that she was in dire need of a rest room. He told her not to worry, that he was sure there was relief waiting at the top of the lift in the form of a powder room for female skiers in distress. He was wrong, of course, and the pain did not go away.

If you've ever had nature hit its panic button in you, then you know that a temperature of 12 below doesn't help matters.

With time running out, the woman weighed her options. Her husband, picking up on the intensity of the pain, suggested that since she was wearing an all-white ski outfit, she should go off in the woods and no one would even notice. He assured her, "The white will provide more than adequate camouflage." So she headed for the tree line, began lowering her ski pants and proceeded to do her thing.

If you've ever parked on the side of a slope, then you know there is a right way and wrong way to set your skis so you don't move. Yup, you got it!!! She had them positioned the wrong way. Steep slopes are not forgiving...even during the most embarrassing moments.

Without warning, the woman found herself skiing backward, out-of-control, racing through the
trees...somehow missing all of them and onto another slope. Her derriere and the reverse side were still bare, her pants down around her knees, and she was picking up speed all the while.

She continued backwards, totally out-of-control, creating an unusual vista for the other skiers. The
woman skied back under the lift and finally collided violently with a pylon. The bad news was that she
broke her arm and was unable to pull up her ski pants. At long last her husband arrived, putting an end to her nudie show, then summoned the ski patrol. They transported her to a hospital.

While in the emergency room, a man with an obviously broken leg was put in the bed next to hers. "So, how'd you break your leg?" she asked, making small talk.

"It was the stupidest thing you ever saw," he said. "I was riding up this ski lift and suddenly, I
couldn't believe my eyes! There was this crazy woman skiing backward, out-of-control, down the mountain, with her bare bottom hanging out of her pants. I leaned over to get a better look and fell out of the lift."

"So, how'd you break your arm?

Posted by Steph at 4:07 PM | Comments (1)

November 5, 2005

Agnes Achziger

AGNES ACHZIGER Age 94, passed away October 6 in Carmichael, California. Born January 29, 1911 in Russia, she was the daughter of Nicholas and Martha Bashkov. Agnes was preceded in death by her husband, Rhine Achziger; two brothers, John and Mike Bashkov; as well as her sister-in-law, Edna Bashkov. She leaves behind to honor her memory her sister, Mary Myers; two sisters-in-law, Arnella Bashkov and Jean Bryant; and twent y-two nieces and nephews. Her final resting place will be in Mojave, California, beside her husband Rhine. Services entrusted to LIND BROTHERS MORTUARY Carmichael (916) 482-8080
Published in the Los Angeles Daily News on 10/9/2005.

November 5, 2005
Sam sends his condolences to all. (c/o steph)

October 30, 2005
Agnes, a friend of many years. Your home was always open to friends and family. You will be missed a great deal. Bob and Wanda Bryant (Bakersfield, CA )

October 29, 2005
Agnes and Rhine were a big part of the life in Boron. Rhine was extra special to the children and Agnes made everyone welcome in their home. They were good, hardworking people. Wonderful memories!
Dick & Gloria Taylor (Lancaster, CA )

October 29, 2005
Thinking of all the times we spent together. Phyllis Achziger (Yerington, NV )

October 29, 2005
Agnes, so many things to remmeber. I think of your kind and gracious hospitality - always making us feel welcome and loved. You were a great help for Rhine. Edith Vogel (LaMirada, CA )

October 25, 2005
Aunt Agnes and Uncle Rhine were a great inspiration in my childhood. Aunt Agnes was a credit to Uncle Rhine. He was a lucky man.
Larry Achziger (Ft. Mohave, AZ )

October 19, 2005
Agnes, you and Rhine gave me a very special gift when I was a child. You will be remembered for your kind spirit and Rhine for sharing his shetland ponies. Roberta (Bryant) Nikkel (Sumner, IL )

October 18, 2005
Aunt Agnes, at last you and Uncle Rhine are together again and forever with Our Father. You will be greatly missed but the fond memories I have of you will always be in my heart. Carol Hosford (Elko, NV )

© Copyright 1999-2005 Legacy.com
All Rights Reserved

Posted by Steph at 10:56 PM | Comments (0)

busy night!

Uncle Sam had good energy and a clear voice when I arrived tonight. We read through about 20 emails, mostly jokes (some funny, some ok, some duds - inevitable, eh?) One was disturbing.

Some folk are trying to organize a boycott of the Eid stamp re-released by the US Post Office in honor of two major Muslim holidays. Eid-ul-Fitr is a sacred Muslim holiday. The people promoting the boycott are blaming all Muslims for the actions of a few. This is hardly fair. It reminded Sam of the desecration of his church in Longmont, Colorado during WWII. It was a site of attacks by "patriotic" Americans because the congregants were immigrants from Germany and Russia. Sam said, "The young people had a hard time understanding the violence. Many of them had brothers serving in the US Army." Sam also remembered some political activism he was part of during that time. There was a politician who used jingoism to campaign against others. We looked jingoism up in the dictionary to be sure it's the right label: "an aggressive attitude combining excessive patriotism and contempt for other countries" (OAD, 1980).

Sam got lengthy emails and photos from his old college buddies - Hal, Wes, and Bill. He really enjoys them! We were so behind tonight that there wasn't time to respond individually . . . at any rate, Sam sure lights up when he gets news from you guys. (Others, too, btw!) :-)

Phil, Lorraine, and Pat were up yesterday to visit. Took off with most of Sam's plants cuz they had mites. I just had to do some doctoring on mine too - 'tis the season? As if I know anything about nurturing that kinda life! :-/

Sam reminsced a bit about the recent holiday: he thought more people dressed up or down (!) for Halloween celebrations this year. "It reminded me," he says, "...I thought about Halloween at Gordy and Carol's house. No one was in costume, but I put a stocking over my face, and I heard Gordy exclaim, 'They're getting bigger and bigger every year!'" Gordy was referring to trick-or-treaters. Sam, of course, has always loved to play tricks. :-)

Posted by Steph at 8:04 PM | Comments (3)


Sam says, "The problem is, once they strap you in, it's written in stone. They'll do it all the time." BUT - we've been informed that we can specify the conditions under which Sam can be strapped at all. Which probably means we can specify the conditions when Eden Park cannot strap Sam up. Currently, when Sam's body gets too tired and he slumps over in his chair, when the staff are able to respond he asks them to help him into bed. Sometimes, that will still be what Sam wants. Other times he might want to stay up, and will choose to be strapped up in his chair for A LIMITED TIME ONLY. It makes sense to start with the shortest of amount of time that seems like it might be enough for Sam's muscles to rest and build up some energy to be able to support him again. Sam says starting with 30 minutes is good. That means, once he is strapped up - which should ONLY ever be when he indicates this is what he wants - staff will return WITHOUT FAIL in 30 minutes to unstrap him. If, after some amount of time, Sam wants to be strapped up again or go to bed, he may so indicate. AT NO TIME, EVER, SHOULD SAM BE RESTRAINED FOR MORE THAN THIRTY MINUTES DURATION.

Posted by Steph at 6:25 PM | Comments (2)

"say hi to your uncle for me"

"Do you know about me?!" I have a couple of "uncles". There's the fictional one, and then there's the non-biological but infinitely real one.

I met Leon Trainee at work today. He had to figure out how to answer my mundane and persistent questions: what time can I catch the bus? Will it really be there at 6:55 am? Do I choose time asleep or time with my friends?

It's all about timing. Well, and having something to say. ;-) How much of my life has been spent "out of time" with others? By far and away the bulk of it. Even many of those times when I *thought* I was "present" and "reasonable" turn out, in retrospect, to have been projections of emotional events past. Part of feeling "happy" might be the experience of moving into the temporal now with a minimal trace of the subjectively imprinted past. (Or maybe feeling happy is only possible in the "now" and in the "future" if there are glimpses of it in the "past"?)

Posted by Steph at 3:16 PM | Comments (0)

November 1, 2005

"permission to restrain"

This could be downright creepy, but hopefully it won't ever be used to any ill purpose. Every now and then, Sam gets so tired he just can't hold himself upright in his chair anymore. It's a bit disconcerting to walk in and find him slumped over. :-( He's ok (if uncomfortable), but doesn't have the muscles to pull himself back up by himself. I've fiddled around with a couple of the safety harnesses they use for lifting him and it does the trick - I think without too much discomfort. At least, with less than being doubled-up. The nursing home staff won't (can't, I guess) do it unless Sam signs an official form giving them permission.

Understandably, he's reluctant to do so because lord knows when and how they might abuse it. NOT that I personally suspect anyone there of being intentionally cruel, but the truth is folks won't slow down enough to actually HEAR what Sam's wishes are in the moment. He's quicker, relatively speaking, when he's got energy, but even then he's operating on a different time frame. His mind isn't, I'm still pretty sure of that, but the effort of getting his mouth to just articulate what he's thinking is becoming more and more obvious. So some dang fool actually dropped him a few weeks ago because she didn't take the time to let him get his feet under him. And lord knows how many other mishaps, blunders, and errors of disrespect occur just because folks are in a hurry. Even the good ones - the ones Sam really likes, who've been there for a long time or otherwise made some kind of connection with him - they're also prone to just fill in what they think Sam needs/means if he doesn't respond quickly enough.

It's a real problem. :-(


Otherwise, he's fine. (Oops - Sam, I forgot to tell you my mom says she loves you. And we know she's not the only one!) Tom & Lou and Barbara Dunn were just leaving when I arrived with piping-hot Thai food. We munched on shrimp salad and chicken satay while visiting with another resident, Carole Sue. She's a deaf woman I know; a sweetheart of a person if there ever was one. We chatted about bingo, stuffed animals, Sam's paintings (especially the ones by Phil & Lorraine). Didn't stay too long, as Sam was wiped out by all his company. I didn't notice (via the guestbook) if there were other visitors even earlier, but while I was there an off-duty staff person came in with a wee one dressed like a pumpkin. That kid was passed out until Sam started coughing - that woke her up! He sounds kinda like a dragon when he coughs. No danger, but it sounds ominous!

Posted by Steph at 12:36 AM | Comments (1)

October 24, 2005

"I feel fine."

You've gotta hear Sam say it in his stentorian voice to get the full effect, but he is over the cold he had earlier last week. I wasn't able to visit for long, but he's hanging in there, as he always does. :-)

Posted by Steph at 5:59 AM | Comments (1)

October 14, 2005

Sam's favorite

no enema's.jpg

Posted by Steph at 10:43 PM | Comments (0)

election issue 2006

Sam's sister Edith sent this to him via email:




SOCIAL SECURITY: (This is worth reading. It is short and to the point.)

Perhaps we are asking the wrong questions during election years. Our Senators and Congresswomen do not pay into Social Security and, of course, they do not collect from it.

You see, Social Security benefits were not suitable for persons of their rare elevation in society.They felt they should have a special plan for themselves. So, many years ago they voted in their own benefit plan. In more recent years, no congressperson has felt the need to change it. After all, it is a great plan. For all practical purposes their plan works like this: When they retire, they continue to draw the same pay until they die. Except it may increase from time to time for cost of living adjustments..

For example, Senator Byrd and Congressman White and their wives may expect to draw $7,800,000.00 (that's Seven Million, Eight-Hundred Thousand Dollars), with their wives drawing $275,000.00 during the last years of their lives.

Tom DeLay is slated to receive $4,795,000.00, Jon Corzine will only receive $1,140,000.00 because of his short tenure in the senate.

Bob Dole is already collecting on his $6,575,000.00 since he left the Senate. His wife is now in the Senate, working to build up her own pile of gold from us. These figures are in addition to the FREE medical, dental, optical, and hospitalization services given to these so called public servants. Let us clean up their act in 2006, use your votes.

This is calculated on an average life span for each of those named Dignitaries.

Younger Dignitaries who retire at an early age, will receive much more during the rest of their lives. Their cost for this excellent plan is $0.00. NADA....ZILCH....This little perk they voted for themselves is free to them. You and I pick up the tab for this plan. The funds for this fine retirement plan come directly from the General Funds!!!!


From our own Social Security Plan, which you and I pay (or have paid) into,-every payday until we retire (which amount is matched by our employer)-we can expect to get an average of $1,000 per month after retirement.

Social Security could be very good if only one small change were made. That change would be to:
Jerk the Golden Fleece Retirement Plan from under the Senators and Congressmen. Put them into the Social Security plan with the rest of us

then sit back.....and see how fast they would fix it.

If enough people receive this, maybe a seed of awareness will be planted and maybe good changes will evolve.

Posted by Steph at 8:05 PM | Comments (0)

family history

Sam says, "If I wrote a book it would be divided into chapters by my siblings. Clara, first, then Theodore (Ted)..." then his memory gets fuzzy, which one is next? :-) How many siblings were there? Sam was "the youngest of 12."

"Part of it would be poignant. One child was dead at birth, before Clara. The other boy lived until he was two. I didn't know them, of course. Born before my time. I was not close to anybody except Clarence.

"Next was Adam. Clarence. Anna. Ann is still alive. We called her Ann, her name was Anna. Her middle name was Rosie. Anna Rosie. Herman, and Edith, who's not dead. Sam, the author. I've been thinking about the book for a long time.."

(I only count ten people...)

"Renhald and Ruben, they were twins, they go after Ted." (We're not sure how to spell Reinhald!)

"Clara died at 93. She was married to Hank Burback. She spoiled a boy and a girl, Hank Jr. and Jeri.

"I can't read or write, which makes this book a great challenge.

(The beer we're drinking probably doesn't help.)

"Mother and father, Adam and Elizabeth, were quite busy." {burp}

That's the end of the book for tonight. We read a ton of email (great jokes!!!) and also the comments from the last blogpost. Thoughtful, all of you. Wes, neither PSP or ALS are what Sam has. It's something else. If you didn't see my comment back to you, I'm not a blood relative, but that's an irrelevant detail. :-)

Harold, Sam commented back to you (click on the different colored words to see it). Wes, Sam doesn't remember what IFT stands for, but Harold says you have to tell. ????? Jean, Sam was happy to hear from you again.

Peggy just arrived and announced how thrilled she is that Sam is putting her in his will! She introduced herself to me, she says, "I'm Sam's crazy nurse!" Uh huh...! Now she's teasing him about having women in his room and plying them with liquor! She's a trip!

Posted by Steph at 7:21 PM | Comments (0)

October 9, 2005

harvest festival

I brought pate and gorgonzola on pumpernickel bread with hazelnut coffee, but Lee and Greg outstaged me by taking Sam to the Harvest Festival at the Putney School. Way to go! Sam had a blast. :-) Lee wiggled the car into position so Sam could visit with folks. He saw Toby Young (who was in politics at one time), Amy, Ann Quest, Jim (of Jim & Carol), Peter Dixon, and Evan (who is now a senior; Sam is still way proud of the photos Evan superimposed of Sam and some of his favorite places in Putney when Evan visited Sam for his community service project through the high school).

Also, Sam saw Steven Anderson, Karen Gustafson, Evan's mother Leslie (who used to work at SIT), Linda (a friend of Karen's), also Karen Blanchard and Debbie (a friend of Lee's).

Someone said fall is ten days behind schedule, this story says it's coming along now with a flourish. But we've had extraordinarily warm weather lately, and one of the mildest falls I can recall. An extended summer, really. Some trees have started to change brilliantly but most are still green. Sam says they drove up by his place - it looked the same except they've put curtains up in the windows.

Even on the sliding glass door! I can't imagine why someone would want to block that view. It's not like anyone can see in unless they go to quite a bit of effort (binoculars? a telescope?).

Greg's wife Ali came along, she doesn't speak a whole lot of English so Sam didn't get to chat with her so much. She seems nice (Sam always thought so). They're on their way to Costa Rica for four months. (Lucky dawgs!)

Sam's eyes aren't going him any favors tonight. :-/ "So it goes," he says. He's enjoying the food, even if the silverware keeps ending up on the floor.

Just met a couple of the aides. Been a LOT of turnover recently. (Bums Sam out. Hard to explain to new folks what he likes or needs...folks here before already got it when it was easier for him to speak.) :-) Anyway, Connie's been an aide here for many years. She hasn't ever partied with Sam, but she's worried about him getting overtired - since he has such a busy day. He is less engaged than usual, but not like there's anything wrong, tired sums it up. The good kind!

Sam got a surprise email from Bill Hart, with a picture, 8 cool dudes from looooooong ago! I said, "Sam, you look so studly!" He said, "We all do." Sam is standing, second from the right. Next to him, second from the left, is Harold van Valin. Kneeling on the left end is Bill Hart, and kneeling on the right end is Wes Lingren. These four were roommates along with the two guys standing at either end. Sam looked at the photo for a long time - I know I cannot imagine what he's remembering, except I can tell it made him happy.

Posted by Steph at 4:38 PM | Comments (2)

October 1, 2005

health update

Wes has actually been reading back through the posts about Sam. They go back a couple of years now (!). I just read one of the very first ones to Sam (maybe it is the actual "first" one) - "Ah.....my main man is back!"

Sam says, "I spent more time thinking about death then than I do now." That first year we talked about it alot, but then Sam "adapted. I got adjusted." Wes asks, "What put Sam in the nursing home?"

"Well," Sam says, "I was driving to Keene. A woman who's since died was in the car with me. I realized that I couldn't drive carefully enough. I put myself in Eden Park. It has trees on both sides. I can see them looking out my window. I went to Vernon Green, and they didn't have trees. Thompson House also didn't have visible trees.

"I have a large room with a large window. The walls are covered with paintings and photographs. More paintings than photographs." (Sam calls the photographs his "Rogue's Gallery.")

"The paintings were done by Lorraine Sullivan and Phil Young. They are married. Lorraine doesn't use Phil's last name. If I was talking with you, Wes, I would say, 'You know Easterners are like that.'"

Sam does speak, but it takes time and effort. He's speaking quite clearly today, compared with other times when he's tired or not feeling well. He does slur his speech sometimes, and it seems to me the issues have become more mechanical than cognitive, although the cognitive bit still shows up once in a while. The medical issue is deterioration of the cerebellum.

"I see Dr. Daly next week. I don't know when exactly ... they assume that I'll be here regardless of the time they come."

I do too! (That got a smile outta Sam.) :-)

The move from Sam's wonderful home in Putney to Eden Park took some time. He stopped driving in 2000, staying in the house for another year before moving to the nursing home. He got in-home personal assistance for awhile, but there were issues with him falling, and general difficulties getting around that hastened the transition. Sam took care of his legal affairs, sold the house to his long-time neighbors (practically family), and moved.

"My hands have gotten worse, I know." It's true. The legs seemed to be the first to go. Sam can still just barely support his own weight on them if someone else lifts him and helps him balance. I (and a few others) still take him out on the town; we can pivot him in/out of the wheelchair to the car and back again. The speech stuff showed up next - luckily it hasn't declined as fast as the legs. The arms and hands were next. Sam can still manipulate things, but it takes some combination of patience, willpower, and focused concentration that one can only hope to emulate. "Hmm mmm", says Sam as I just read this outloud to him.

"I don't read. Everything is read to me." It started with his eyes - they tear up and he can't see. He just told me he'll have to have an operation for cataracts. Now, it's a combination of the blurry vision and the difficulty with grasping/holding things. "The past two or three months, it takes me awhile to focus."

My last few visits, I've noticed some issues with Sam's hearing. "My hearing is generally good, but there are periods when its not so good." I wonder if its worse when he's sick. "Perhaps. I have to go up to the Veteran's and have them check. It'll save me about $1000 dollars to have them do the testing."

With all these physical ailments, one wouldn't be surprised if there were deleterious effects on the mind and spirit, however, Sam seems as sharp as ever. :-) He still loves bawdy humor and follows politics with a great deal of interest. His passionate viewpoints are on display in his room: an effigy of Bush with flames coming out of his cowboy boots, and a framed faux Time magazine cover after Bush was elected in 2004 (I won't say re-elected), proclaiming: "We are FUCKED."

(BIG smile outta Sam when I read the preceding to him!)

"However, these images do not detract from the paintings. I find the Time cover laying face down sometimes. Either the nurses or one of the aides does that." Oh well! They were pretty upset when Sam insisted on hanging his rusted metal welcome sign in the hall near his door because it's an image of a naked couple, genitalia included. Sam refuses to succumb to stereotypes about old people. Period.

Posted by Steph at 5:10 PM | Comments (4)

September 25, 2005

Carro Tinto 2003

Sam was finally off antibiotics today so we had a bit of a strong red wine from Spain. David and I regaled him with stories about teaching; Sam wants to crash my class at UNH. We responded to a few messages and read a few jokes. Elektra (a new nurse) came in with his evening meds but prudently decided not to spoil his glass of wine. :-) Thanks to everyone for sending news. Sam says to you all, "Take care!" (Sam especially enjoyed the Indiana jokes from Ruth.)

Oh (how could I nearly forget?!) - who knows the codename
"Ms Mary Sunshine"? There are a few persons at Eden who aren't high on Sam's list . . .

Posted by Steph at 7:34 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

September 18, 2005

feeling bad for you

Sam feels badly that so many of you write to him and he often doesn't have the energy to respond. It sure does make his day though - big grins for sure. :-) Wes recently sent an update on a whole bunch of old pals - brought back a lot of memories. These make Sam happy. He asked me today if I could believe he's been here in Eden Park for four years. Says it feels like the time has gone by fast. I figure that's good, even though I do recall some times when I visited and the time felt interminable to him.

Sam especially enjoys saucy jokes and news about friends and family. He's been on anti-biotics off and on for ages, so we haven't been able to indulge together, but did take some time to fill in Raz on the parties that used to occur at the house in Putney (not to mention those that occasionally happen here!)

Posted by Steph at 6:05 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 30, 2005

One Bun

Sam says this used to be one of his nicknames. He's not that skinny now! Not as solid as he was when he could get around on his own legs though. He's been feeling better the past two days. I saw him last night and he was feeling good, tonight too. He got some sad news yesterday from the Vecchiatti's, so we've been doing a bit of sad together. :-(

Right now he's working Sue the nurse over to sign his guestbook. The advantage of having a laptop here is I can post directly! We'll see - he's thinking of keeping it . . . I need to do some negotiating with the staff though to really help him with it once in awhile. We were lucky to have some kind souls come in from the outside to do it this summer while I was gone.

Thanks for the comments from Wes, Cicely, Bea and Jennifer. Sam also got emails from David and Nona. Sam says, "Keep 'em coming!"

Posted by Steph at 6:17 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 27, 2005

droopy poopy

Poor Sam. He was all huddled up in blankets, coughing and feeling all-around miserable when I saw him yesterday. :-( (He did brighten up a bit seeing me, grin.) He must have got sick right after Lee visited. But he sure enjoyed gallivanting all over town with you! Saw your comment, Lee, when you were with him last time. Jennifer posted there too, so you should all catch up on the news!

He asked about folks, and says hi to everyone, and so loves it when you do write. It is tough for him to say much back. I know it might be frustrating for those of you who want a specific response. All I can say is Sam loves you and it means the world to him to hear from you. He wishes each of you the very best.

Posted by Steph at 8:19 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

August 15, 2005

Putney News

Paul L posted a note to Sam, with the email address back to iputney.com. Check it out!

and Karen dropped a note that her mom, fondly known as Omi, was born in Mannheim, 1911, right where I was last week! She adds, "My grandfather was the town planner and architect in Ludwigshafen," which is right next door.

Posted by Steph at 11:05 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

August 11, 2005

High energy Man!

Gosh - I have just been too hectic lately! (In fieldwork they call it the snowball effect.)

Sam and I had a videochat on Sunday evening with James' superb assistance. It was OBVIOUS the very second Sam came into view that he was feeling GREAT! It was pretty cool to see, because his energy has been low most times we've chatted. He said he'd been feeling that good for a few days, had taken a trip, and was just overall doing well.

He did get tired of trying to speak, so James and I would chat intermittently and Sam would eavesdrop. Then we'd chat directly some more. That system seemed to work pretty well. If anyone is in the area and can squeeze in a visit, it might be a very good time! (Of course, you know Sam always enjoys company.

Hugs to all!

Posted by Steph at 5:45 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 3, 2005

Falling down on the job :-(

Hey everyone,

I videochatted with Sam from Berlin last week, he looked good and sounded ok. He was tired (I caught him without warning just as he was getting ready to take a nap), but we had a nice conversation. He wanted to tell me some German word or phrase that Edith always signs her letters with – neither Jess nor I could make it out. Me trying to pronounce German is a bit scary. :-) so we don’t have a translation – anyone wanna help us out?

Posted by Steph at 6:26 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 10, 2005

He's still kicking!

had a nice videochat with Sam today, even though we kept losing connection cuz his voice is so quiet. He recounted the guest list for his birthday: Jessica and her boyfriend, Lee and Pat and Ralph, Edith and Jennifer, Christine and Buddy. Miss anyone? Apparently you had a very nice dinner at the Putney Inn, where they still remember Sam (whether from mistaking his slow movements as drunkenness or other events I didn't inquire, grin). I know lots of you were there in spirit. The best part of our conversation was Sam recalling a time that The Experiment held it's annual event in Brugge, Belgium. I visited there a few weeks ago. Forgot to mention that it is the cleanest city I have ever seen - they literally sweep the streets!

Posted by Steph at 5:08 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 28, 2005

Sam's Big Day

June 28! Hopefully we'll get some party reports...

Jean Jensen-Shields passes this birthday greeting on to Sam (the old fart!):

"I miss you tons, and , one day, I hope to get out there for a visit.

Give him a BIG HUG and KISS for me and wish him the happiest of birthdays.

Love to Sam, Jean"

Posted by Steph at 10:27 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

June 11, 2005

videochat success!

Well, the video feed froze periodically and the audio skipped out here n' there but finally I got through to Sam and we had a little chat. He looked good, except he said his energy has been low lately. The sleepyhead has often been staying in bed until noon! Hmmmm, I won't reveal the details of my European sleep schedule, suffice it to say Sam and I may not be that different. *grin*

We actually spent most of the conversation trying to figure out how to get more frequent contact in terms of scheduling. James is terrific as a communication mediator/facilitator, but we've got to get more staff at Eden trained to do it. Sam's got one person he likes who has helped him a few times (I forget her name), and Karen from Activities is also going to get involved. We'd talked it a few months before I left but then I hadn't been able to catch up with her again in the flurry of prep before I actually had to get my hiney on that plane.

Sam's been trying to keep track of where I am - a hard task! (Currently Brussels.) I got a few really big grins out of him and that made the whole endeavor worthwhile. His birthday is coming up - June 28! I think he's gonna be 71? He's getting into the ranks, that's for sure.

Hugs to all!

Posted by Steph at 6:41 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

May 6, 2005

for a good fart call...

Sam enjoys the absurd to no end. There I am, all weepy 'cause I won't see him for 3 1/2 months, and he sets off his little fart machine. :-)

We had a nice visit and next time I'll be testing the videochat from France. Ya'll stay tuned in now! Sam gets to read the blog directly when he can con someone at Eden to help him with it. We looked at Phil, Pat, and Jennifer's recent comments this evening.

Sam doesn't always have the energy to reply, but he sure loves to know you're thinking about him! He is thinking of you, too.

Posted by Steph at 11:52 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

April 26, 2005

Videochat Success!

Video Snapshot of Sam Achziger 1.tiff

Posted by Steph at 9:25 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 23, 2005

am I behind?

I feel like I've missed a report or several.

Ana Elisa, Sam really wants to hear from all of you! Mangeca, what's up lately? Cheryl, Sam wanted you to know that both he and Bill are glad you're back (from your trip in March). Jennifer, no, Sam didn't wear his bunny ears for Easter this year. :-(

Sam is now connected to the Internet via my old laptop and Adelphia cable. He doesn't use the computer himself, only when someone is there to assist. If any of you want to try and contact him through an online chat service, that's the reason he's wired. He has a camera for visual chat and audio too. It's harder to understand him if I'm not looking at him, and he doesn't understand as well if the audio quality is a bit low. So whoever's helping him acts as a bit of a communication facilitator, repeating messages back and forth.

It worked really well on our first trial this past Friday morning - except my dial-up connection is too slow to send video. I'll try from the university sometime next week. Point - you need high-speed access for visual contact, but can do audio or typing if you have a chat capabilities. Let me know if you want to test it out.

Various people at Eden Park will be helping Sam with this - Penny and Karen from activities, and I'm optimistic a computer-guru friend of mine, James, will be able to spend an hour or two with Sam/week, so we'll have a guarantee of connection at least during those timeslots.

Folks, please keep trying the comment feature - but maybe it makes sense to copy and save your response in a word file first so you don't lose it. It really ought to work, but your comments won't show up right away like they used to...I have to let them in. That's the only way I could block the nasty spam.

Sam will now be able to come in and read the blog directly himself, if he wants! And even have someone else type in responses...let's see how these new frontiers develop!

Posted by Steph at 5:08 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

April 18, 2005


Well. Sam and I didn't talk too much today. We were busy fiddling with the internet connection and laptop. It's not quite functional yet, but hopefully by tomorrow morning Sam will be able to be online with his own email account and a CAMERA so that he and I (and anyone else who has "ichat" or equivalent?) can talk and see each other by live action video.

I'm not sure if he's really going to use the email feature or not. I'll keep you posted. I don't leave for a few more weeks, so there's time for us to work out any bugs. (That's the plan, anyway!) I'm hooking Sam up with his own computer guru to deal with things while I'm away.

There have been few comments recently, and that may be because the new system is screwed up? I meet with my own computer guru on Thursday morning, we'll check this out again. (I thought it had been fixed already - sigh.)

Anyway, Sam is in good spirits. He's a bit intimidated by all this computer stuff as he never, ever, used one in this computer-mediated communication kind-of-way. (I'm not sure they even had email while he was at The Experiment?) He's kinda old. :-)

I'm hoping to train a few of the staff at Eden Park, and the activity staff also know about this. So maybe you will all be able to have more direct contact with Sam if you wish. In the meantime, I hope you'll use the blog and keep trying to comment....one of these days it will work without a hitch!

Posted by Steph at 8:19 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 7, 2005


Only saw Sam for a few minutes today - he was on his way to Walmart. Looked all chipper, too. :-)

I talked with both Penny and Karen about doing laptop stuff with Sam this summer as an official "activity". And asked Betty about finding out which nurses and aides use computers at home, so we can figure out who else might be able to help Sam get online.

Pat helped me out with the cameras. The one thing I didn't check was how easily they travel...mine is gonna get lugged around quite a bit!

Adelphia (the cable company) was a piece of cake. Installation April 18.

And I talked with James about "tutoring" - maybe 1 or 2 times a week for an hour or so... that way we have an outside Eden back-up plan for long-distance communication via the Internet.

Any of you with Instant Messenger capability should let me know - I'll have to see about getting Sam hooked up with an account. And, if any of you have cameras - the whole visual thing is gonna be possible soon!

Finally, note this brief entry which includes a quote sent by Jennifer and something my dad wrote...

Everyone - please post a comment! I need to confirm that the new system is working while I can still access my tech-guru easily!! Thanks. :-)

Posted by Steph at 4:09 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 3, 2005

virtue of perseverance

Jennifer sends along this quote:

"The difference between perseverance and obstinacy is that one comes from a strong will, and the other from a strong won't."
-- Henry Ward Beecher

# 184 in the section on "practical morality" in In pursuit of virtue: Al-Akhlâq wa’l-Siyar (Morals and Behaviour) By Ibn Hazm al-Andalusi describes these in a bit more detail.

by the way, my dad told me in an email that he appreciated what Jennifer wrote to Sam last week:

She "put into words what many of us are thinking and feeling. She had reached that mellow, introspective part of our day (s) (1:11 am) and I am sure was totally focused on her thoughts about Sam......a joyful and peaceful interlude."

Posted by Steph at 11:58 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 26, 2005

no evidence!

I think Sam convinced the staff at Eden Park to go along with an early April Fool's Day joke - there is no physical evidence that he fell on his head last week! Actually, there is the tiniest reddish patch right in the center of his "headfore" (as Hannah used to say) at the hairline, so it does look like maybe something happened. He loved Mangeca's tease about the Margarita's. :-)

He thinks it was about five minutes before someone found him, and there is an alarm now on the wheelchair, so if he falls out again they'll know right away. He was reaching for the controls on the tv and just slid out onto his knees and bonked into the tv stand before toppling over. He made it sound almost graceful. ;-)

He did tell me tonight that he's been thinking about his mortality in ways he never has before. Ever since the bad flu he had a month ago. ("Aha!" I exclaimed when he said this, "It wasn't just me that was afraid!") I don't think he's actually afraid, though, just aware. He said he feels mortal, these days. He catches himself watching tv, and an ad for an upcoming movie will come on and he'll think, "I'd like to watch that." Which is different than when he used to think, "I will watch that."

We talked about it a bit, because I wondered two things. First, is he thinking this way because he actually senses that his time is short (as some people apparently do), or is he just aware of it because it's a change in his thinking that wasn't there before? He insists he "feels fine," and I'd say he looks and "feels" fine to me too - his energy, in the way I sense his "Sam-ness" :-), hasn't changed. (Then, at the end of my visit tonight he wanted to know how to get ahold of me in case he needed me, so I think he is a little freaked out about thinking this way, even if he doesn't think he's leaving anytime soon.)

The second thing was me wondering if it was similar to the conversations we had the first year he was in the nursing home, when we read the book by Ram Dass together and talked incessantly about dying. No, he said, this is different. Then, I think it was more intellectual, now I think it's more visceral. I'll check out this distinction with him next visit.

I teared up at one point and told him it's gonna be hard for me when he's gone. He said, "We won't think of that now."


Mangeca, Sam was delighted to hear from you although not so happy to learn you're facing more chemo. :-( He also appreciated your frankness about feeling crappy and just putting it out there. He never was one for faking much, y' know?

Pat, I'm sorry we lost your long entry when the comment feature crashed last week. I agreed with you that all of Sam's friends probably did tie up the phone lines inquiring about his health but you know Sam, he shook his head in embarrassment, "Naahhhh."

Nona, Sam grinned at your comment about those bucking horses. And he does want more of your jokes!

Dick, very glad to hear Emily is doing so well, although it sounds like recovery is slow? And I'm sorry you were also caught in the stupid comment feature glitch.

I'm not sure what happened, but you should all be aware, now, that the next time you comment its going to ask you to "register". Its no big deal, but its a way of keeping all the spam out (porn, poker, real estate, etc). If any of you want to share such stuff with the rest of us (!), I won't stop you - but I sure didn't like all that anonymous, repetitive, and obnoxious automatic stuff.

Jennifer - Sam enjoyed your long email (that you'd tried to post as a comment, alas!)....he didn't have any comment about your planned spring trip today; I'll keep you posted if he expresses any preferences about when to come. btw - I told you this briefly in my email response, but the rest of you should know that

Sam's speech is a million times better in the morning! The last several times I've visited him as been in the evening after he's tired. The last time I saw him was in the morning and it was much easier to understand him. So - any of you planning visits might want to think about ways to get there earlier rather than later. Although if the choice is to see him or not see him, he definitely rather see you whenever than not at all! His speech tonight was actually pretty dang good. The only difficulty was getting an accurate interpretation of his "feeling mortal" story above. More abstract things are harder for him to express; I had to do a lot of rephrasing, verifying, and posing possible interpretations before I actually got "the point" of that one. Which was simply him telling me he was aware of the change in his consciousness. (But he started this right after I read him Mangeca's comment so I thought he was responding to her....but he had connected something she'd written to his own current experience - those internal leaps of logic are the ones that are sometimes tricky to figure out.)

Back to you Jennifer, Sam was tickled to hear about your date. I think he might enjoy a few more details...? ;-)

Bea, Sam was thrilled to see you, and he munched on what was left of the cookies you brought him. His pleasure eating them was obvious. :-)

Sam was also glad to see Karen, Erica, and Bob this evening. I guess I missed you all by about a half hour. :-( Sam said you had your color back, Karen, and hopes all goes well with you now (me, too!). He said he hadn't seen Erica since Christmas, and Bob only once since then. He let you all do most of the talking - interested in what you had to say. He did have a question about Karen & Paul's upcoming trip to Switzerland (which sounds like a blast to me, smile): is this trip related to a document Omi didn't sign? He didn't try to explain the context to me, so I'm not sure if the two stories were actually related or not, maybe that's his question.

Speaking of questions, Lou - Sam is curious about your work! He mentioned this to me a couple weeks ago and I forgot to write it in here. He knows you do a lot of driving, but I think he's unclear exactly why, where you go, and what you actually do? :-) He's grateful you sat with him at Elaine's funeral last weekend. That was very kind of you. He also appreciated that Elaine's son, Peter, made sure the audio of the service was broadcast into the basement so that he could hear everything. (I think he was a bit embarrassed that he didn't recognize Peter in his beard and mustache.)

He felt good about the service overall, tragic as the circumstances were. All Elaine's relations said something, and he thought the a capella number was beautiful and appropriate. Sam was very glad to be there - thanks Tom & Lou for playing taxi! And it made him feel special that it meant so much to the family that he was able to make it. You all have quite a neighborhood.

Wow. This is another long one! A few more tidbits:

Sam: "How is Nora? Does she show?"
Steph: "She's big!"
Sam: "She might have twins."

I tried to imagine the expression on Nora and David's faces, and cracked up laughing. :-) I reminded Sam that you're due in April - 3 or 4 weeks is all now, yes? He says Hello to both of you, even though he hasn't met Nora (yet - hint hint).

Lee, the air purifier is awesome! "Almost soundless," Sam said. And he feels better, noticeably so. Good call!

Whew! We strategized a bit about how to keep in touch over the summer. I'm going to go by Monday to talk with Shirley about contacting me (am a bit frustrated that hasn't been processed yet...) and also with Brian or Fred (the maintenance guys) about cable...if we can get Sam hooked up to cable, maybe we can do some laptop to laptop real time communication while I'm gone this summer....if we can get a few volunteers to learn how to turn the silly thing on...

and, the last thing. I told Sam a bit about a book I just finished for my class, Anthropology of Consciousness, called Why God Won't Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief. It presents neurobiological evidence that the brain is built to experience god through a mental state they call Absolute Unitary Being. This is a state of mind most commonly reached through intensive meditation. What the authors have done is researched meditators in the meditative state and been able to map what the brain is actually doing in those moments when the meditators experience transcendence. Then they've correlated these experiences with the reported accounts of mystics from all religions throughout the ages, positioned science as a "mythology" in its own right (premised upon the belief that materiality is the only "real" reality), and demonstrated - rather convincingly! - that science and religion are NOT in conflict and that science certainly hasn't disproven the existence of god but in fact confirms the capacity of the human brain to experience god.

Sam suggested that I might be interested in this book he read sometime (I'm not sure when, he has someone who reads to him these days, and he's always read a lot), Many Masters Many Lives. It does look interesting....I don't know personally where I am on the question of reincarnation, except that I've had experiences which could be explained in that way. And I certainly know people (some dearly) who are completely convinced not only in its theoretical possibility but as factual in regard to their own experiences and understandings.

and with that - hugs to all!

Posted by Steph at 10:19 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

March 21, 2005

comment feature fixed

Hello everyone. This is a quick one just to let you know that I'm sorry the comment feature wasn't working when I sent out the last long posting about Sam. It is is working now. You can comment here, or return to that long one and comment there.

fyi, also, Sam is ok, but he fell out of his wheelchair earlier today and did take a trip to the hospital to get checked out. Everything seems fine except for a bump and bruise, and he's back at Eden now. I think this is the second time it's happened; he leans forward for something and gravity pulls him right on down.

I'll see him Saturday and will, of course, let you all know what's what.

Posted by Steph at 11:11 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

March 17, 2005


I saw Sam last Saturday....five days ago. It took me four days to think about what I wanted to say, and I've been flat out so - finally - here I am. A lot has happened, Sam's friend and neighbor Elaine Dixon died after several days of being in critical condition from an accident, she was hit and run over by a car. Some of Sam's good friends have arranged for him to get to the funeral this Saturday, bless them. I know its important to Sam.

He's having a rough time. He won't admit it, probably, but here's my suspicion. The reality of the decay of the speech center and fine motor control muscles that produce speech is here. His mind is still as sharp as ever, but its harder to tell because it takes him so much effort to speak. Folks have to be more patient than ever, adjusting to his speed, and reading very small cues. I gave him a hard time about not giving cues sometimes when he thinks what he wants is so damn obvious any fool would get it (!) - but folks are trying to be respectful and be sure. I said he's gotta give us those cues even when it seems obvious to him.

The flip side, is folks being in a hurry and not waiting for his response. An aide came in while I was there the other day and asked Sam the same question three times in a row with barely 2 seconds pause in between. Sam surely had the answer in his mind, but there's some massive organizational process that has to occur to get his mouth to cooperate, and you've just got to hang in there with him.

i've been thinking about a communication board. A friend recommended a few places to look today - at VR, RSVP, the COA....it seems to me the social worker at Eden ought to be right on top of this, but maybe she just needs a nudge, or maybe we need to make it happen. If anyone has immediate knowledge of where, how, who please let me know, would you?

Meanwhile, I told Sam I'd be gone for the summer and he was downright sad. I hadn't expected that, as avid a traveler as he's always been, and as much as he's encouraged me to leap on any opportunity that came my way. So that was my clue there's a bit more going on in that ol' geezer. His mood's good, but I think visitors are more important than ever now, and especially those with the patience to let there be silences while Sam musters up the resources to articulate. I think because its so much work, he's a lot more selective in what he tries to say also. If its a minor point, or a small misunderstanding, he's likely to just let it go, because he'd rather focus on saying other, more important or meaningful things. Like the messages he wanted me to relay to all of you who responded to the last entry with posts and emails. :-)

Ruth - Sam smiled big remembering our drinking! He wants you to drink in his honor; we couldn't tonight because he's still on antibiotics. Oh - he's off the oxygen machine now, that happened sometime last week. And he looks tons better, must be close to finishing this second round of high-powered drugs.

Nona - Sam loved the joke you sent! He was a little surprised that you sent it! I guess he's under the impression you didn't share his taste in jokes?!! Anyway, he says, "Keep 'em coming!" He also wants to know what courses Kelly is taking. :-)

Dick & Emily - Sam's wondering how Emily is doing? He remembers college too. :-) And wants to know who you think you are teasing him about being in the warm weather while winter is still dumping 7 inch snows on us?!!!! Of course, its a tease. He hopes you're both doing well.

Larry - Sam invites you to drop by anytime, with or without a movie or drink. He'd love to see you. :-) And I thank you for giving me the correct term. Paul Gustafson holds the Durable Medical Power of Attorney for Sam. If I'm lucky, I'll get by tomorrow to talk with Shirley about being added to the list of people who'll be notified asap if something happens to Sam and there's time for folks to come and be with him.

Bea - Sam thanks you for thinking of him. Of course he'd love to see you, you and Alvino, you and a friend, in fact any combination of you solo or with others would make him quite happy. :-) Regardless, he hopes you and your family are doing well.

Ana Elisa - oh if I could describe to you Sam's face when I read your message to him! He simply beamed with delight. :-) You made him so happy with just those few short lines! He misses his Brazilian family very much. Of course he's glad you're all doing well. He wants you to know that he was sick for awhile, the doctor came and gave him medicine and put him on an oxygen machine, and now he is all better.

David, Sam says hello. :-)

Lee and Christine, Sam kept talking about the two of you! He's really looking forward to the air purifier which should be arriving anytime now (maybe it already has). He thinks he's got it arranged for one of the staff to set it up for him. Chris, Sam wants you to know how much he enjoys your wedding picture. He certainly enjoyed your visit. :-)

Sam shared a bit about his routines in the nursing home. He goes to physical therapy three times a week to work on his eyes, hands, arms, and legs. his right side has kinda started to collapse on him, so he needs a fair bit of propping up. He kept slumping over this last time and I asked if I should just lay down on the floor so we could have easy eye contact while talking. It was a tease, of course, but it may come to that at some point, who knows? Anyway, Sam finds the PT enjoyable.

He needs to see a dermatologist, but otherwise, he was in really good spirits. As i said, he wasn't too excited I'd be gone for the summer, and he wants you all to know I won't be able to post these summaries for awhile. Maybe we can work out some alternative - actually, Sam suggested that Tom and Lou and I might be able to coordinate some way for me and Sam to keep in touch. If we work that out then I'll still be able to share a little bit here.

For someone who can't talk very much, Sam conveyed a lot of information during that visit! He told me how he used to run his leadership seminars and about his summer job working at the Carl Rogers Institute: "I gave good phone," he bragged. (Can you imagine?!!) He also proudly described himself as a phd dropout. He completed all his coursework in organizational psychology but never took comps. Just stopped. Obviously other things were more compelling to him then, and frankly, he had quite the life without the title, can't see as it hurt him much at all.

With that, I'll call it a wrap for this evening. Hugs and love to all, you know Sam holds you close in his heart.

Posted by Steph at 11:23 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 26, 2005

he's hanging in!

Sam was still pretty under the weather today, but the staff is sure he's just got a tenacious bug. He's still on oxygen, and they're going to put him on a second round of antibiotics. Sam said he's been "up" and "down" since last week. He was in bed when I arrived with pepperoni pizza; I could hardly understand a dang thing he said while he was laying down. Once he was up, it was better, but his speech really improved when Tom Zopf showed up after I'd been there an hour or so.

I did call before going to check on whether or not pizza would be a good idea. Kevin said Sam hadn't been eating very much. Sam said he usually doesn't eat very much. Tom said and its a good thing too, about time Sam lost some weight! :-)

So, Sam got up and we worked our way through a piece of pizza and some conversation when he told me he'd been dying of thirst for a BEER. So I went on a quick run for some Miller Genuine Draft for him and some organic Wolaver's Brown Ale for me. We toasted to my buddy Ruth - last time Sam and I had beer was when Ruth was visiting. He grinned awfully big remembering that visit. :-)

Lou sent some homemade peanut butter cookies (she stayed home recovering from a flu herself), and Tom entertained us with a few stories. Barbara had called him to ask how Sam was doing. "Fine," Tom said he told her. And told us he'd lied. Sam liked that. :-) And Tom teased Sam about being an imposter, posing as a Brattleboro Union High School alumni in order to get a purple ribbon for joining their parade. Sam said he just watched - which still left us wondering just how he got that ribbon after all...?!

Tom and Sam enjoyed news about the Pope that Tom had just heard on the radio: the Pope is fine, "he's eating and passing notes to his aides." Fragrant and musical notes, apparently! And somehow it came up that there's a photo of Sam with Albert Einstein! Does anyone know this story? Do tell!

Mangeca, Sam was very happy to hear from you and said, "Thanks very much." He's glad to be in touch with you again and sends you his best.

Pat, Sam grinned at Phil's joke about your combined IQ of 100. :-) He hopes your trip to New York is fun.

Nona, Sam didn't know about your upcoming trip to Europe! Sounds exciting, where will you go? What will you do? Also, he enjoyed the news about everyone, and wasn't at all surprised that Kelly is doing so well in school. "Quiet as a church mouse," he said.

Now, the heavy stuff. Jennifer, you and Edith do have the clearance for info etc, I don't think anything fell through on that regard. But Sam reiterated that he wants Paul to be the first person notified in case anything happens to him, and of course I think everyone knows that Paul is Sam's ... I forgot the technical term ... the person who will make life support or other medical decisions for Sam if he's unable to make them for himself. We looked at the paper work together tonight - durable power of attorney? medical proxy? shoot. Anyway, Sam has very clearly stated that he does not want his life prolonged artificially. We did talk about getting me added to the list of people that Eden would notify immediately if something did happen, so I'll talk to Shirley and she'll follow up with Sam so that happens according to all the proper procedures. In the meantime though, Sam still wants Paul to be the first person informed and asks Paul to make effort to let me (and I guess whoever else) know. Of course, I will send out an email asap to everyone on this list.

In the meantime, though, no worries. The staff is not concerned there's any cause for concern about Sam's continued longterm health at this point in time. The way he sucked down that beer proved it to me, too! :-)

Posted by Steph at 1:32 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

February 18, 2005


Sam's ok, but he didn't look too good when I got there. Hooked up to an oxygen tank and his face looked drawn, tight, like he'd aged a lot in the past two weeks. I diddled around with replacing the battery in his Bose remote before sitting down and checking in. He just about lunged for his standard hazelnut black (we always have this issue about letting it cool down enough so he doesn't burn himself), so I knew he was "ok" in general, but I worried something "big" had happened. I said,

"Looks like its been a rough couple of weeks since I've seen you?"

Then he told me he had bad hearing today. He didn't look like I'd understood him right (his speech was tough to understand today), so I asked him if that was what he said. After a few trials I learned that actually, Pat Neary visited today. :-) Along with Phil and Lorraine. We laughed at the absurdity of my first grasp at "meaning". Talk about an opportunity to work on telepathy!

He was pretty quiet. There were lots of silences. He moved slower than usual (which is pretty slow). He had some KFC that I brought, and told me he'd "get to" the root beer later, after he downed the coffee. :-) Anyway, I really wanted to know what the heck had happened, but he was really having a hard time with speech, so we started to play 20 questions. I probably never would have figured it out except one of the aides came in to check his vitals, and Sam gave him permission to tell me. "Flu." Sam and I laughed pretty hard - there I was all worried one or more of his organs was checking out and he was just recovering from a bug! Sam seemed to enjoy that I was so worried; Kevin said of course! That's how he gets his "sympathy chicken"!

I did take the opportunity to pester him about how people would find out if something serious happened and any of us actually wanted to be there asap. We never talked about that before. (His first year in the nursing home we talked a lot about death and dying and there was a pretty long spell - a few years - when suicide was on his mind quite often.) So, we didn't talk about it anymore tonight either, just posed the question. Does he want people to come and be with him if there's warning and time? Or would he prefer to be alone?

The only system now is that the staff would notify Paul Gustafson. And then Paul would have to let others know....I asked Sam if he wanted to add anyone else to the list of people that Eden Park should call right away. We'll see what he says.

Meanwhile, he told me David Corey was in the hospital for cancer. :-(
And he finally called Mangeca about three weeks ago, and found she went home to Brazil for a month. They're not sure if she's out of the woods yet or not. He compared me to her later in our conversation...said he wondered what it would have been like to have us as students. :-) He was responding to a story about my latest escapade in school. Ironically, I had brought with me the last two blogposts about him to hear what I'd written and the comments people had posted. As I read them tonight there he was talking about his own failed efforts to act as a spokesperson. :-) Funny how that conversation happened only a month ago...prescient, perhaps?

Anyway, he described himself as a "great reader of graffiti", and one of his favorites is:

"Immanual Kant but he never could."

I am gonna miss this guy.

A few messages: Nona, thanks for the info about Sam's parents and also the picture of Cody. Sam said he can't tell who Cody looks like...does he have a strong family resemblance to anyone? And he LOVED the story about Clarence, and why he went into the army! He grinned and nodded like crazy. :-)

David, Sam said, "I didn't know your wife's name until tonight."

Mangeca and Samir: you've been added to the list of folks who get notified when I (Steph) post about visiting Sam. I always read to him whatever comments people make, as well as share direct emails and jokes with him. So feel free to join in!

Posted by Steph at 10:46 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

January 28, 2005


I haven't been too good about keeping up my deal re Sam and letting you all know what's up with him. Sorry.

He's doing fine. A bit restless; really wants to get out. Is psyched about seeing Phanton of the Opera but it hasn't come to Brattleboro yet. Would like to see The Aviator too.

We spent some time talking about "rocking the boat" - Sam said he usually wasn't supported when he acted as a "spokesperson" for others. I kinda wonder about that, just because there are still so many people in his life! We talked about that too, how lucky he is that so many people care about him - he gets lots of visits from a load of different people. Bill McKim brought him a bunch of flowers; Debbie Kendrick just gave him an awesome B&W collage of Hollywood stars, mostly from Sam's youth. (We could only put names to faces for a few, and we guessed a bunch more names but couldn't attach them to any one in particular. I told Sam I'm such a bad COM major not to know that stuff!)

We also talked about teaching....Sam remembered lots of situations in which he had to face a stereotype he had about a certain "type" of person (motorcyclists, in particular) and the education he had to provide domestic students about being more welcoming to international students.

He asked how my trip to pick up David and Nora was (all the way to NYC!). He asks about David every time I go. :-) Otherwise we didn't talk about anyone else...oh yes we did, Michael got "let go" from Eden Park. Sam tried to defend him but the staff wouldn't let Sam's editorial go to press in the nursing home's newsletter. They asked for an alternative editorial so Sam wrote something about the administrators getting the plumb parking spots instead of visitors who are there to see the residents who are supposed to be "the priority". (I'm making up what I think Sam said, I didn't read the article and he didn't tell me the points of his argument.) At any rate, the result is that administrators and staff are now parking in the further lot so the cushy parking spots are open for visitors. He's such a radical! No wonder we get along. :-)

Posted by Steph at 8:43 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 2, 2005



by Lorraine Sullivan

Posted by Steph at 4:20 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 27, 2004


These notes are from the first week in December. Sam said,

"I remember as a child, growing up, I was going to the local church. During the war (WWII) we had somebody smash watermelons in the foyer of the church. It was a German church in Longmont, Colorado."

I've always known Sam was of German stock - how could one not, with a last name like Achziger? :-) What I didn't until this story, was that his parents were actually born and raised in Russia!!

Apparently, during the time of Catherine the Great, a bunch of Germans located to farm on the Volga. (No idea if this was a voluntary or involuntary thing.) The community(ies?) maintained its German cultural and linguistic heritage. Sam's parents were married here in the US, Sam doesn't know if they had previously met there or not. So all the kids were born here, and they grew up speaking German.

"Mom told me they used to bury their food in manure piles to keep it from being stolen by the soldiers."

This was back in Russia, when she was growing up I guess. WWI? My notes aren't clear.

"I feel sorry for immigrants. I remember how I was treated and I didn't have any telltale marks. School is another culture."

Sam did have some "marks" though: "I didn't have my own clothes until high school, it was always hand-me-downs. I remember my dad would put my shoes on a shoetree and cut out pieces of material and patch them."

Then we got into some other stories and current events. I didn't note where they saw each other. Maybe at Walmart? Debbie, who used to work 3rd shift, has quit and gone to work at Walmart. And Jennifer had taken Sam there while she was visiting over Thanksgiving. I'm not sure Sam had a grand time; hard for him not to be able to motivate under his own power. But he told me he always wonders if they'll recognize them or not, because he once "made out like a bandit" there exchanging a vacuum cleaner. :-) Did you know Sam is a scam artist? Surely you're not surprised...!

I saw Betty Worden, one of the best nurses who I hadn't seen in awhile. Got a big hug. :-) Sam said, "Betty is quite a gal. I call her Booper." He refers to her that way to and expects other staff to know who he means. I'm sure they figure they it out. There's no dim bulbs there, even if they're all underpaid and overworked.

He really liked his Dunkin Donuts hazelnut coffee.

Oh, that Walmart story? It must have been awhile ago, because I don't think you could get away with this today. He had a defective sweeper that he hadn't purchased there. Marched right in and asked to see the manager. (No messing around.) He wanted to tell him he had poor taste. !! But the clerk working the counter said there wasn't a general manager available, but she could "fix that" for him, and told him to go pick out one he liked. Sam selected the most expensive model, exchanged it and got "a few bucks" back as well! What a sly dawg!

Other tidbits from this visit:

Bill McKim took Sam to church.

Jennifer left the Friday after Thanksgiving. She bought him TONS of flowers and gifts.

When I arrived Sam had just woken up. He was in good spirits but harder to understand than usual. He was also pretty slumped in his chair. He eventually let me muscle him around to a more comfortable position. (He is a lugger!) We talked about his energy and ability to articulate (that dysphasia thing, or whatever it is). He says its always harder for him to speak in the afternoons. Even if he stays in bed throughout the morning, he's "used up all my energy" by lunchtime. Sam usually wakes up around 7 am, and even lying down at some point doesn't seem to preserve his strength or give him much of a boost. However, after I told Sam I was having a hard time understanding him, his speech improved a lot, but interestingly, it still sounded "unclear" to Sam himself. %-/

Sam really liked the Hungarian music given him by David. (And, if I must say so, he "performed" really well the day David and I visited, waking him up from a deep nap!)

And that brings me (and you) up to date! Except (!) for the jokes from George Carlin on aging that Sam really enjoyed when I saw him on Christmas Eve. There. If you click through on those, you'll be all set.

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December 25, 2004

xmas eve

Happy Holidays everyone! Sam sends his love and best wishes to you all. And hey - some folk who read this don't know who Sam is - maybe we could do a little something about that, and generate something nice for Sam too? If you could post a comment explaining "who Sam is to you"...? Too much like homework? Oh well. It was a thought. :-)

His room is full a gazillion cards (all from women, he noted, and he said "that door can't stand anymore cards on it" to which I replied, "you're too damn popular." He grinned.) He also has plants galore, candy out the wazoo, stuffed animals, xmas lights and a neon palm tree (gift from Jennifer, an aide). Not to mention all the presents!

He asked about my mother, my father, and my brother. Such a proper old man he is. ;-) I showed him a joke I got from a friend at school. Sam said it is "apt". Then he showed it to one of the aides, Becky, who said, "What people get off the computer!" Which she thought was good, because "you've got to have a sense of humor these days or you'll crack up." No doubt. Sam said his favorite wise men joke is when they arrive at the manger and someone shouts, "It's a girl!"

I like that one too. ;-)

Sam remembered my friend David, who came to visit awhile ago and gave him a CD. He said it was "awfully nice of him," and now he's listened to it three times. I told him a bit about holiday maneuverings vis-a-vis the Egyptian and Hungarian inlaws, Sam rolled his eyes and said, "Relatives!" :-)

He was in bed when I got there but said he'd been awake and contemplating getting up. He was a bit cantankerous: "I want my coffee now." Hmph! They used a lift to get him up; first time I'd seen that. They've been using it for about for months in the afternoon. He's tall, and "all muscle" (so they say). I just call him a "lugger". He says he doesn't have as much energy in the afternoon to help transfer. Maybe it's his situation that reminded him of Kelly, Nona's daughter who did well in her first semester of nursing school this past fall. Go Kelly! :-)

Sam might be on his way back from the Gustafson's now, or maybe he's still there. They were picking him at 11:30 today for christmas dinner. He was really looking forward to it. I passed on Ruth's greetings, to which he raised his coffee cup: "Hi Ruth! I'll drink to you!" :-) We were sparse on jokes today, he'd had a bunch from Jennifer recently that were already passed on to the nurses, but Jean, you were right. He DID laugh when I told him you'd said you didn't miss getting firewood!

He had a bit of stress with his holiday decorations. He has a wreath on the back of his wheelchair, one hanging in the window, and another one on the door. The one on the door was removed without even asking (shame!) because it had gotten a bit dry. Bill McKim and Cheryl Wilfong helped him replace it. Speaking of Bill - you swiped my present! But that's ok, 'cause I got yours. Ha! ;-) Lorraine, you rock! "Super Star Sam" is awesome. Maybe you'll let me scan it in here so others can see it? Sam showed me the present from Barbara Dunn - she's a volunter there. It's a photograph she took of the lighthouse in Biddeford Pool, ME this fall, which she had enlarged and framed. It is very sharply focused and has a very neat rill of water in the foreground, looking across the bay to the lighthouse in the distance. Sam likes it a lot I think. Me too! He said, "Barbara likes me". Shameless, don't you think?! He went on, "Several girls around here like me." What a ladykiller!

We talked about the grief counselor I've been seeing. I think she's gonna work out alright. I told Sam I was training her. :-) He told me about the woman he saw twice when he first moved in to Eden Park, and how he decided he was healthier than she was! (Maybe it was even a mutual decision, I'm not quite sure.)

Tom Zopf arrived and visited for awhile. He was full of stories about Barbara Dirks, who got a kink in her hip traveling recently and hasn't been getting around too easily, a hike he and Lou, Maude, Dan and Dan's mother, had taken up Prospect Mountain in Dummerston where they laid on the grass in the sun. The ground was frozen I guess, but go figure! It was that warm. Another story was about thier store on Rt 30 which was robbed in the wee hours of the morning. Such excitement! Sam said they host more guests than Sam gets at Eden Park. That's saying something! And they're still adjusting to the completion of a major renovation (they practically rebuilt the 1792 former schoolhouse). "Build a house, lose a spouse!" but that didn't happen. Tom says it's done now, nothing to do but move forward. ;-)

Tom also loved the gift/art by Lorraine: "Oh Sam, who did this?! Oh, that's good! Any-Warhol-type." In case you didn't know, Lorraine is Andy Warhol's sister.

Sam showed off a picture of Anne, his sister in Tennessee and her husband. Speaking of company, Elizabeth Brownstein wants to visit this summer, she just finished writing her book about Lincoln. Sam says, "I'll ask her, how'd it end?"

Tom told us about a time when his son, Adam, was watching a civil war documentary on tv, and chastised his father for mentioning something about the "upcoming" assassination: "Don't tell me how it ends!" Sam continued, "I could have saved her a lot of time. 'He lived and he died.'"

Tom and I started to brainstorm other people who should be on the list I email the Sam posts to, he mentioned the Corey's, then realized, "a lot of them didn't really like Sam" - so I guess we'll see how many more people really get added to the list. :-)

As Tom was getting ready to leave, Sam mentioned he hadn't seen the Fantini's new baby, and somehow that got Tom onto this story of his recent trip to North Carolina, where there were 80 chruches in a town of 30,000 people. Brattleboro, by comparison, with 15,000 people has less than a dozen (we think). The fascinating juxtaposition is in RSVP volunteers (for senior citizens): at the regional office in NC, they had 300 people in 60 different organizations. In Brattleboro, 600 volunteers in 125 organizations. WOW! Tom said he thought this is more sociological than political (people in NC might do all their volunteering through the churches for instance), but it still seems quite striking.

After Tom left, Sam and I listened to Also Sprach Zarathustra, a gift from Bill Horn, and ate dinner (kentucky fried chicken, yum). Michael came in with Sam's evening round of meds, "It's the Cossacks!" I don't think Sam would put the staff at Eden Park in the same category, but then...maybe it depends on the day?!

Like I said, it was a long visit. :-) I have notes from a previous visit (a few weeks ago) that I haven't posted yet (I misplaced them, oops), but will wait a few days to do that. Meanwhile, happy happy to everyone!

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November 16, 2004


So, I've been thinking about this more since Gabi asked if it was a "feedback wrapping" (per the interpersonal communication curriculum utilizing Seashore, et al). I don't think it was just my wrapping. I think folks might have recognized their own reactions, at least some of them. Today, while I was sharing some of this "story" with Uncle Sam, I again characterized it as "funny", and we did laugh together. David shared that he'd had a similar, somewhat taken-aback (?) reaction upon meeting me for the first time. It is funny, on one level, that we (people? in a universal sense?) are so sensitive to first impressions and... maybe the laughter is a self-laughter that also protects us from recognizing how strongly these first impressions (especially of difference) may affect our willingness to learn about/try to understand someone else? I dunno. I'm reaching....trying to understand....I don't think the laughter is a "bad" thing. It definitely protects me from some pain, but it also...opens communication? Maybe if we share the laughter together, we somehow "own" or acknowledge a connection, a similarity?

I remembered this morning that once in awhile a stranger will comment positively about my hair. "I like your haircut." So the reaction isn't universally negative. Raz and I talked about what impact my hairstyle might have in Turkey...(if I ever make it there!) I remember a few people walking past us in Arad last year just STARING. :-) Andrea kept complaining about being invisible. :-)

Sam also recognized something about the vulnerability of putting myself "out there" so much. I don't remember exactly what he said. I've definitely been feeling a bit of...strain? from it...it's hard work, especially when people have other priorites, as they usually do (Sam hastened to point out!). Not only with this project, but David's too. Sam wondered if anyone had read about me yet, and David teased about the book he's going to publish with me on the cover. "Wouldn't that be something!"

Yes, perhaps. But only if it is co-constructed, eh? Truly (!) poststructural. Nikki brought this point up in class yesterday while everyone was debriefing their experiences with the Blythe McVicker Clinchy article on Ways of Knowing. "How do we know what we think we know? Do we really know or just think that we do?"

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"Twas ever thus"

I always thought this was a "Sam-ism" but he says its Winnie the Pooh. :-) He said it in response to the most boring part of our conversation today - how people have become less known by their "job" and more by their "career". My pal David and I were there for nearly two hours! We had to roust Sam out of bed and his Alaskan/nun clothes. :-) He was sick yesterday, threw up, but "felt better afterwards". He also said that I have to write that he felt better because we visited. :-)

Because David and I had just come from Hannah's school where I'm teaching media literacy/conflict resolution to the 6th graders, we talked about that for awhile. Sam teased me about "studying" him as I explained that David was "studying me" for a research project. I invented a word, "organicity", to describe the way the class/group process goes between me and the students, how it's also effected "externally" by where I am with the FP and [the BM].* Sam approved. :-)

We also talked about my recent "teacher's body" project with the undergrads at UMass and peers at the National Communication Association conference last week. Good laughs...more on that in another post! (Check out the 'How Far Will It Go' thread if you're curious.)

Some reminiscing today had to do with languages. David's first language is Hungarian, Sam's was German. Sam said his mom used to mix German and English. Example: "Ich filla nicht so hot today." :-) (Did I spell the German correctly?!) He also said he gets mental pictures of mother whenever Edith talks about her, different images, happy ones. (I said he wouldn't admit it if they weren't happy, and he insisted, "they're happy." grin)

Sam's getting visits from another Hilltop student this year. We showed David the pictures that the last one, Kevin, made and gave Sam. David's favorite was the one of the Putney General Store with Sam's face superimposed: "The windows are your eyes showing through the glasses, it creates a human out of the building." Eric is the current Hilltop student; his dad is Swiss. Sam attracts international diversity like nobody's business! :-)

We talked a wee bit about Sam living in Putney for so many years, 1960-2001, sans a few years in California, which were "f*cking lonely." He remembers how long he had to wait for public transportation there. And working at the sailing club that Jennifer and her husband owned. He passed up a sail to one of the outlying islands as "sailing wasn't my priority" then. This whole conversation came about after I'd read the really crude diatribe about "the South" that someone wrote after the election. We'd laughed a lot through it, but it took a lot of energy and it seemed we needed a break. Sam remembers being introduced to people at Newport Beach and someone saying to him, since he was from New England, "oh, you're one of those liberal assholes." That would have been back in 1979 or so. We couldn't quite figure out how long Sam was there. He says it was "very complex" and that he went back and forth a lot before coming back to Putney for good. His name is on the new war memorial there; I think its a source of pride for him.

And wouldn't you know he again mentioned that afghan given him by SIT students! Maybe I need to flesh out more of this story from him. He obviously thinks about it a lot and treasures it. What were the circumstances under which it was given him? By whom? What does it represent?

It was a pretty relaxed day, actually. We did what we do when I feel I have enough time to actually be there for awhile. Tell stories. Reminisce. Flesh out histories. Read jokes. He laughed really, really hard at the crude one (above) and also the one Ruth sent, "15 things to do at Walmart while your spouse/partner is taking their sweet time." :-) We also laughed at David as he shared with us his view that "graduate school was invented for me", by which he meant being able to sleep in until 10 or so and stay up regularly until 2 or 3. No wonder he's had such a rough time getting up to Vermont by 9 am! :-)

We got a bit somber near the end. Sam asked why my dad left music. I don't know the answer. It was odd he asked it though, because I've just been emailing with Brian and Dad about things that happened with the Denver Symphony Orchestra. Seems there are a lot of things I don't know about decisions my parents made. Is that always the case? Even more strange (if you consider the convergence) is that I spoke with mom on the phone while driving (shhh!) from Vermont to school and she was in a reflective mood about her own way of being back "when we were all living together."

Anyway, despite some angst about the election and thinking about past lives' choices and their outcomes, we had a very nice visit. We ended with an infamous "Sam shrug" - which I always think of as "Who knows? and if one did, what could you do about it?"

I apologize that I didn't have anyone's recent comments with me to share with Sam; I'll do that next week.

*Edited on 12 February 2006.

Posted by Steph at 2:10 PM | Comments (4)

November 10, 2004


Sam was awafully cozy with me yesterday. :-) A bit more touchy than usual (with me, anyway). It was quite sweet and made me feel good.

Paul showed up about 5 minutes after I had arrived and regaled us with stories about seasickness (Karen's success with a patch, Bob's fishing expedition in which he alternated catching fish with puking - poor guy!). The impetus for these stories was the patch Sam's wearing behind his ear - which he told me about before and now I'm a bit unclear about but I think it was for dizziness. (If someone knows please say so, and don't hesitate to correct me if I'm wrong!)

Sam bragged about the chicken dinner that Tom and Lou had brought him the night before (Monday). He loves special treatment! I brought him a small hazelnut coffee from dunkin donuts and - once it cooled off, about half-an-hour - he sucked it down. I'd been bringing him larges before and then he'd said if it was midday to make it a small - but it is obviously Not Enough! Back to the biggies it will be!

He's looking forward to Jennifer's arrival on the 22nd, and told me "[The BM] is the luckiest kid in the world." Gosh. It's feels awfully good to get that kind of validation from somebody who knows and loves us all.

We spent time going over an old letter from Edith (a year ago) about the Achziger family tree. Both Edith and Sam were surprised to learn that the first baby in the family, Howard, had been stillborn. He showed me pictures of the brothers, again, and clarified that Phyllis was Herman's wife, and Agnes was Ryan's. I can't recall which niece (?) it is who's doing the genealogy, but Edith was bemoaning the fact that they hadn't asked enough questions when the folks and grandfolks were alive. There's some confusion about which of the many Achzigers they knew growing up were actually related to them and which not.

We only commiserated a little bit about the election results, but Sam did have a copy of the faux Time cover with a picture of Bush and the saying....well, its not very polite, but it certainly expresses many people's sentiments quite bluntly. sigh. I'm less worried that we -a mong Sam's friends - voted differently than I am that we don't seem able to talk with each other across the lines. :-(

Sam had some tests done for his swallowing reflexes and we're both confused by the medicalese in the report....I've gotta do some research into a "bolus" and "valleculae". Overall, it says there has been "improvement", so I guess whatever the heck it actually means, its getting better rather than worse.

Hugs to all! Let us know how you're holding up. And, Nona, your son is on my mind everday. Have you heard from him? Godspeed.

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November 2, 2004

election day visit

Sam was just wrapping up a newsletter meeting when I arrived today. The new issue has a quote in it from George Eliot that I really like:

"It's never too late to be who you might have been."

Not that becoming your potential necessarily changes what's past .... anyway ... Sam and I are a bit anxious about the elections (I'm sure that's not true for any of you, is it? smile). Nona, Sam grinned when I read him your email ("I believe Sam and I are on opposite sides of the fence re garding politics. . . .America!") and said, "yeah." He told me he's seen more of Bush in the last week than in the last four years, mostly because he'd made deliberate choices NOT to see him before. Btw, if you haven't poked around the blog, you might have missed one of my friend's electoral college predictions. Feel free to join in (comment) on that discussion if you'd like! Does it seem weird to anyone else that for the first time there are international observers at an election in the U.S.? I have to say, I do not mind at all that people have different opinions about who's the best/right person to be president, but it bothers me a lot that the act of casting a ballot has become such a contested territory. I don't want to live in a system where the courts decide who wins or loses. :-(

Meanwhile, we got on with reading everyone's mail. I've seen Sam a few times but hadn't been able to get him caught up on correspondence since late September! Going all the way back to September 22, Sam taught me how to pronounce Abhaya, who visited with Karen Blanchard, was glad to have seen Phil & Lorraine when neither of you were down with a cold, wondered what Debbie meant about the new students "not being as out there" as former students, and smiled throughout Cheryl's accounting of her Nez Perce research. Sam didn't know what GPS stands for; and neither of us has any idea how that works. Cheryl, I am very interested in what you're doing! Growing up in Denver I was weaned on stories of American Indian resistance. And, being a grad student and aspiring researcher myself, I'm very curious what your lens/approach is...would you share? Jean, you had Sam laughing out loud with your characterization of Barney. :-) He loved that after it all (pee, poop, farts), you said, "but still..." !! That was the hardest, longest laugh of the day. :-) Sam couldn't place Jamie - who is she?

He did like the jokes from Paul and Karen, especially the one about the Republicans switching their emblem (in the comment). And Jennifer, I got the package of jokes that you'd sent Sam for Mary Lung to read to him. He liked them, of course. :-) Speaking of jokes, WHO sent Sam the card with the flowers on the organ? I didn't peek inside, but it cracked me up! I was on my way out, late, so didn't ask Sam. I'll investigate next time if no one confesses. ;-)

Pat, the "what to read" joke ("Titanic" or "My Life" by Bill Clinton) got a few chuckles. And the Bush doll - "on fire" - is great! Sam showed it to me almost as soon as I arrived. He's got it hanging up in the window. Ruth, the Rooney monologue about women over 30 was also a hit. Sam said, "I remember her." I said, "She remembers you too." He grinned.

On the more newsy side of things, Sam is thrilled that Jennifer is coming Nov 22-26, told me Jean used to live upstairs from him in the house. He couldn't remember John's last name...gave one of his "Sam shrugs", as if to say, "oh well!" :-) Dunno if any of us will go see Keri Noble on December 1 at the Iron Horse, but you never know. (Give us an update, if anyone does go, eh?). Has Sam heard her music? Or Billy McLaughlin's? He didn't recognize his name either. Finally, the administrator of Eden Park, David Selover, has moved on. I asked Sam if this was "good or bad news". He said, "it depends on the girl they replaced him with, Colleen." So far, no word on her performance.

Well, Nona, back to you and some family tidbits. Sam showed me two pictures of his brother Clarence, as an adult with all the siblings, and as a young 'un...I said he looked pretty tough. Sam said, "He was tough." You said he died 22 years ago (Dec 12)...I'm thinking...that was after my family had moved away from Denver. There were several years that the only time we'd get to Sam was when he snuck in a visit to us on the way to a family event with all of you - usually a funeral. Time goes by, doesn't it?

Sam agreed that Marie is a happy person, and we were discussing whether Cody had joined the Marines because of 9/11 or if he was already on that path? Sam was pretty sure that Cody wasn't enlisted at the time of that attack.

Whew! That's a lot of news we covered in about 45 minutes! Do keep in touch, ok?

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November 1, 2004

from Paul & Karen

Bush supporter 300x400.jpg

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October 31, 2004

election superstitions

Micheal shares this wisdom from a friend:

"In the previous 17 Presidential election cycles, if the Washington Reskins won their game the weekend before the election, the incumbent party won on Tuesday. If they lost, the incumbents lost. The Skins looked pretty awful on offense today, as they have all season, but suddenly went ahead with only about 2 minutes left. Except that they didn't; the refs called the play back with an extremely questionable penalty call and the Green Bay Packers pulled it out."

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October 25, 2004

electronic voting

David sends this; its good with sound. :-)

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October 19, 2004

peeping in the rain

Sam and I went for a long, quiet ride today, taking in the beauty of Vermont in the fall. We chomped on Kentucky Fried Chicken and sucked down Dunkin' Donuts Hazelnut coffee along the way. :-)

It was a slightly rainy day, but somehow the overcast sky created a gorgeous backdrop for the fall colors. There have been some amazingly flourescent oranges, bright yellows, sharp reds....and there is still a lot of green, not only the evergreens but the grasses in the fields are still quite lush.

It was a contemplative ride over to Keene, up to Walpole, over to Bellows Falls and down Route 5, with a detour along the Middle Road and East-West Road to track Route 9 (?) back into town along the West River. We really didn't speak much; it would have interfered with the mood. :-)

Sam asked about my family, as he always does, and also expressed concern about Manjeca. She's been ill and Sam hasn't heard from her in a while: does anyone have an update?

Nancy was really helpful at the front desk at Eden Park, where I have to sign a book whenever I take Sam out. She ran off to get a belt for us after we discovered that there was No Way we were going to get him into the car without one. He thought we could pull it off. What was he thinking? The dude is a foot taller than me and I won't guestimate how much he weights. Grin. But the mild leverage on the back just didn't cut it. That belt though.....whipped that dude up out of that wheelchair!

Will see him next week and update him on goings-on in here. It's been pretty quiet lately - hope you all will post comments and let him know what's going on with you.

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October 14, 2004


Saw Sam for only about 10 minutes yesterday evening. He was engrossed in a tv show and I was antsy with all the things I needed to be doing, but we set up a date to go driving next Tuesday. He's already been out at least once, Bill McKim took him for a drive towards Marlboro, which Sam enjoyed very much. He was also thrilled with Phil, Lorraine, and Molly's visit. :-)

He told me he'd taken a trip to the ER recently but I couldn't get the details out of him; will on Tuesday. He's excited Jennifer is coming for Thanksgiving.

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October 10, 2004

Sam's Activism

This from the mouth of Sam:


I just signed a petition demanding to know how George Bush plans to avoid drafting a generation of young people to fight in Iraq.

George Bush is already drafting some people -- he is forcing soldiers to stay active beyond their commitments and ripping apart families by sending unprecedented numbers of National Guard and Reserves to occupy a foreign country.

He has been misleading us on Iraq from the beginning -- about nuclear weapons, about the cost, and about the progress being made. George Bush has some explaining to do about how he will fix the mess he's made without asking this generation to make the sacrifice he dodged.
Join me and demand some answers:


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September 28, 2004

"They're bitchin'!"

Uh oh, these are getting shorter and shorter! Saw Sam for only half-an-hour today. I am zooming around preparing for a trip to a conference in DC.

One of the nurses, Mary Lung, fed Sam this morning. She usually does, but Sam explained his reason for telling me: I like Mary. She has a gifted vocabulary.

Id brought him his favorite large cup of black Hazelnut coffee from Dunkin Donuts, which choked him up on first swallow: See how you affect me?!! After he recovered his breath, he said, in his laconic fashion, Coffees a little hot.

Jennifer called him, shell be here over Thanksgiving. :-) Im supposed to mail the Eden Park newsletter to you, Jennifer, because youre the one who wrote the original letter to Senator Jeffords on Sams behalf. He showed off the letter he received back, which had a lot of verbage in it about HR7, The Community Solutions Act which would expand tax incentives for charitable organizations, extend charitable choice rules to more federal program areas.etc etc etc. It specified, the Charitable Choice Act of 2001, and included some critique of Rumsfeld.

There was one glaring memory issue today first time that I really knew it was a memory glitch (not an aphasia/dysphasia one). Sam asked me, Did you see the back of my wheelchair? He started to tell me what it said and I finished it for him; I put that one on, did you forget? You put it on? I did.

Besides that, all was as usual. There were 3 jokes, when I asked if he was ready for em? GRIN. Hmm hmmm.

The generic names for Viagra got smiles.
The example of a tragedy according to GW Bush got a comment, I think thats good.
The hit of the day was from Jennifer, about two jewish women who decide a nephew cant get herpes because its a disease that only afflicts gentiles, got an out loud laugh. :-)

Finally, Sam checked out my new shoes: I think theyre bitchin!

Hopefully Ill get to visit with Sam longer next week; more news and responses then! Yall be well.

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September 22, 2004


Sam was in an editorial meeting for the newsletter when I got there yesterday but they were just finishing so I didn't get to spy. (Darn!) When I entered his room and he wasn't there I took the moment to jot down the list of visitors from his guest book (Phil and Lorraine gave him this and what a great thing it is - Sam is quite attached to making sure everyone DOES "sign in", smile).

Since September 1:

Connie and Debbie Kendrick
Jamie Theriault
Linda Cornish
Tom Zopf
Joel and Alshayer (sp?) Schlesinger
Susan Tavolli
Steve Anderson
Toby Price
Carrie Arbuckle
Barbara Dirks
Bill McKim
Joanne and Dave Corey

Impressive, huh? The old guy still draws folks to him! Speaking of which, we rode the elevator up from the Activities Room with a couple of guys from the hospital (ambulance drivers with a gurney). They chatted with Sam (first name basis) and teased him about getting girls to push him around. "How'd you manage that?" "Well......" "Oh, THAT's the answer!" ;-)

When we entered his room, he pointed out that sketch of himself again (I forgot who did it, wrote about it a few blogs back) and flowers from .... Debbie Kendrick (I'm pretty sure, I seem to have lost one page of my notes!), and then read a postcard from Phil & Lorraine (I don't know if Sam couldn't read it cuz he has trouble with his vision - his eyes tear frequently or if it was Phil's handwriting...!) I only had about a half-hour, so we immediately got down to business: I had a report on Carla from Paul & Karen, some jokes, the last blog post and 4 comments to it, where did he want to start? "The jokes." :-)

The one Pat posted to the weblog got a big grin, and the one from Jean Jenson-Shields (about the glass eye) drew a marked rolling of the eyes. ;-) There are a few other jokes folks have sent but I'd forgotten that pile, so will share them with Sam next time. (Sorry!)

We dove into the comments next...Dick, we're relieved that Emily is doing alright - and you too. Sam was at a loss (for the moment, only, I'm sure) to come up with a suitable tease about all that caregiving you're doing...! At any rate, hope everything continues to progress well for both of you and that "damn fine job" continues. (At some point we'll get Emily's perspective, right?) ;-)

Nona, Sam was pretty quiet upon learning that Cody is in the thick of things in Iraq. Of course he's praying for all of you. He pointed out Cory's picture to me as Cody's brother - he doesn't have one of Cody. They are both "great nephews", sons's of Nona's daughter Kelly. (Did I get that right?) Sam recalled that Kelly has just started back to school for her nursing degree (go Kelly go!).
And, he does recall "hernia belts" - his brother Herman had one for a long time. Herman died, Sam couldn't remember when. I'm not sure where in the line-up Herman fit? There were 11 siblings if I recall, of which Sam's the baby. :-) His oldest sister is still alive, isn't she? (I forget her name.) And sister Edith - I also don't know where you fit - are you the youngest of the sisters? Otherwise the rest have all passed on, some of them quite young, if memory serves.

Talking about hernia belts reminded me of one of the classic stories from my childhood about Sam and my dad. This was one they always recounted when they saw each other (for years Sam would visit us in Denver on his way to see his family). Dad had an emergency rectal surgery for....a hernia? ulcer? piles? who knows, the important point was that while he was recovering Sam called him up in his hotel room and asked (point blank, as you ALL know is Sam's custom): "How's your ass?" My dad, laughing - and possibly crying at the same time, said, "Don't make me laugh!"

Thanks for your note, Bea, with the info about the other folks who met Sam at SIT a few weeks ago. He remembers Karen, she's a PIM instructor of English (I didn't jot it down, but I think this is what Sam said) who finished her phd at UMass (where I am now ~ although a different department, I'm in Communication.)

Sam wasn't at all surprised to get Al's automated message that he's traveling. Did he just finish a book on bilingual children? I wasn't sure if Sam meant it as a recent publication or an older one. I found the travel guide to Mexico online. :-)

Sam also recalled that your son, Mario, is a strong Bush supporter. (We won't hold that against him, smile.)

My time was done now, so we didn't get to Carla's report. Next time. Sam commented again on the "beautiful flowers" from Debbie. He really loves having live things and colors in his place.

Hugs to all!

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September 14, 2004

"It's the shits"

What a bit of serendipity! Sam was napping when I arrived this morning (looks like Tuesday mornings are gonna be my most reliable time to visit). While we were waiting for Michael to come get him up, he asked how I was doing. In general? Fine. But I can't get over [the FP]. :-( He said, "And that's the shits." Then added, "Put that in the weblog." What cracked me up was that later I was reading him an email from Jennifer that was along the lines of supporting both me and the FP in this process, and you know what she had written? "It's the shits." ! Hilarious!

Our negotiation about how to use our hour today was funny too.

Sam started coughing while we're deciding. "You sound like a horse," I said. "Par for the course."

Then he showed me the ICT/PIM quilt - again. I asked what his deal is with that quilt these days? He was worried I'd forgotten to mention it. I think he is really hoping that somehow, some of those former students are gonna get hooked into this and re-connect with him. If you have any means of putting out the word, please do!

We decided that I'd read him the entry I'd written for the weblog first. This was actually the first time he's heard how I represent him online (I finally remembered to print it out). He approved: "I like your style." Whew! It was gonna SUCK if he didn't! :-)

Then we dove right into the comments and emails. I'd told him we had a lot to talk about, and he said, "You do the talking." I needed to clarify whether this was a request (indicating he didn't want to speak much today), or a statement of fact (that I typically "do the talking"). He said, "Fact." Uh oh! :-)

Four of you had made comments to the last blog: Ruth, Phil, Dave, and Jennifer. Sam says he misses all (each) of you. Ruth, you had written "sigh" at the end of your wish to drink and philosophize together. Sam repeated it, "Sigh." Kinda sweet, huh? Dad (Dave), the joke you sent (about GW's Apache name, "Running Eagle") made Sam laugh pretty hard. He wants me to send it to Jennifer, but decided it's not suitable for public consumption. (If anyone wants it, please send me an email and I'll send it on.) Paul and Karen ~ Sam liked your joke too. The ones that got obvious chuckles were:

"Only in America...do we use the word 'politics' to describe the process so well: 'poli' in Latin meaning 'many' and 'tics' meaning 'bloodsucking creatures."


"If flying is so safe, why do they call the airport the terminal?"

Rick - we really are waiting for an explanation of your work in Kabul (when you have time). :-) And Nona, where is Ali Ramada?

Dick, we're wondering about you and Emily ~ and I'm so sorry I miswrote "Edith" last time. I actually know few of you in person so sometimes the names blur. I apologize. (And anyone should feel free to correct me if you notice a faux paux, please.) Drop us a line when you can? We are deeply hoping everything went alright with the surgery and that Emily is now recovering ~ at home?

Ana Elisa and family, Sam was thrilled to know everyone is ok. He was wondering why your dad doesn't write, because he's so good at computers, and then remembered that his English may not be as good as yours. Is that right? It's pretty cool that so many members of your family visit your grandfather every day. He is one lucky guy!

Sam did get to make the trip to SIT and had a grand time. One other resident of Eden Park went with him, Jack (95 years old). They were going to meet some of Sam's friends, and had a bit of glitch at the rendezvous as Sam & Co were in the international student center and the group they were meeting were waiting in the room that used to be the library. However, they did manage to hook up with Alvino and Bea Fantini, and Robin Bitters (who is married to David Timmons). They chatted for about an hour. Sam also met Steve Fitch (from accounting) and Suzanna (?) ~ he wasn't quite sure he remembered her name correctly. He had seen her in NY a long time ago, and she'd traveled to Africa and some other places after graduating before winding up in London. Now she's teaching English. Sam also remembered the nurse, Debbie Renzano (sp?) from his time there. It was a rainy day but Sam recalls the visit as quite nice. :-)

He told me he still gets supportive comments from staff at Eden Park for the t-shirt that the FP found him for last year's Xmas present. It says

�Bushleague Seed Co. Texas Homegrown Dope"

"Planting instructions: using a silver spoon, plant in shallow hole. Protect from draft. Feed with loads of family and soft money.�

Did you know that Sam is editor of the monthly newsletter? His editorial this month, "A Failure of Leadership", contains excerpts of a speech given by Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy on May 6th entitled, "Prison Abuses in Iraq." Sam has been exhorting his fellow residents to vote, and today we put a bumper sticker on his wheelchair that says, "Your Vote is Your Voice." He has a pin, too. These are being distributed ~ free ~ by the Town of Brattleboro's Town Clerk's Office.

Barbara Dirks had brought by some old yearbooks from Yankton College. Sam graduated from there with his BA in Music in 1950. He also edited the yearbook that year. The "Greyhounds" were sent by Nancy Wittler, whose husband, Mel, died (recently? Sam was surprised by the news; he hadn't known). Sam had so far only looked closely at the issue from 1952, which didn�t have pictures of anyone he knew, except for one person who he didn't know well. He's pleased to have them to peruse, though. Thanks Nancy! (If anyone has her email, please pass this on.)

While I was there, Barbara John popped in. She's the volunteer whose given Sam some of the plants in his window. She was just on vacation to Maine and brought him back a stuffed lobster: "I couldn't bring you a real one so I did the next best thing."

The only other news is that Dr. Hoskins hasn't followed up with Sam yet about those PSAs and shots....guess I'll have to give his office another call. I noticed Pat was by to visit (you rock!)....and now I have to go be a grad student!

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September 2, 2004

big grins!

Sam was delighted to be teased by so many of you about how he got his black eye. :-) However, he re-asserted (with a straight face!), The black eye was from a fall.

Weve got a few new people added to the email list: Bill and Cheryl, Rick Scott, and Larry LaBarge. Sam had comments about each of you. :-)

Bill McKim: he comes to visit every Wednesday and was in the ICT program at SIT (before it became PIM). Cheryl sent an updated picture of the family which is on the inside of Sams door with a great big smiley-face card. Welcome to the list!

Rick, everyone is wondering what youre doing in Kabul? Sam knows youre there working on some project with children, but he cant recall the organization youre there with or what exactly it is that youre doing. Could you tell us all? He said youd had to leave your wife and kids behind. :-( Theres a picture of you and your family up on the outside of the door to the bathroom.

Larry is one of the nurses at Eden Park, and definitely one of Sams favorites. Its great to have you on the list!

Sam was watching The Pretender when I got there this morning; this is one of his favorite shows. He used to watch Charmed next, but doesnt anymore, because it always ends the same way. We finished watching it while he checked in with me about therapy last week (hes so good at picking up right where we left off), which I said was upsetting but dinner afterwards was nice. Then he asked about Hannah, and commented on how progressed she is in her overall education. He was pleased to hear her teacher, Mrs. S, has a reputation for being strict. :-)

It took us about an hour to work through everyones comments. Sam is so happy to get so much news from everyone! Im wondering if the increase in connection is one of the things aiding his energy? Anyway, we went through them more-or-less in chronological order. There are a few responses that just came in the last few days and I didnt have those printed yet, so if you miss a response from Sam its just because he didnt get THAT particular message yet. Once I get a printer at my new digs Ill be able to be up-to-the-minute current.

Nona, Sams knows which George Young you mean, now, and realizes you didnt have to travel to his wifes funeral. Hes thinking of Cody (Im sure all of us wish him the best of luck), but doesnt know where Ali Ramadi iscan you help? And what was the reference to Turn Around? Is that a song or some other reference of significance to becoming 22? We were stumped. :-) Congrats to Jan, and best of luck to Kelly as she embarks on her new educational journey. Sam grinned at your comment that youre not as young as you used to be. He grinned a lot today, at everyones emails and posts to the weblog.

Ruth, Sam remembers you too, with great fondness because you have such a wonderful personality. Sam and I actually havent had a beer together in quite awhile Im not usually there at socially-acceptable drinking times these days. Speaking of which, Jennifer, Sam grinned all the way through Ediths cardiac arrest. :-)

Ana Elisa and everyone, Sam was happy just to get that first short note from you. Your long email I didnt get printed yet, so will read that to him next time. Hes of course always happy to hear from you and hopes everyone is doing well. He also thinks you are doing GREAT with your English!

Dick, Sams thinking of you and Edith right now, as we realized TODAY is the day of her surgery. Glad yours went well (you had kept quiet about it until now, that or we forgotso sorry if we did!)

The director of Activities, Penny, came in about this time to remind Sam about the Episcopal Service at 10 am. Sam usually goes to these; they happen on the first Thursday of the month for about a half-hour. They sing some songs and give communion. Today Reverend Brown was coming, he (?) alternates with another minister every other month.

Penny gets rave reviews from Sam: I like her very much. She is suited to the job. Later, Karen (also from Activities) stopped by, and Sam said, Shes niceand will drive him to SIT in the next week or so for a visit to the campus. He is really looking forward to that. Also, Sam the janitor started to come in to sweep but said hed come back later after Id left. Sam says Sam is funny. I like him. You can tell that the employees there like Sam too, they always say hi to him, smile, and often tease or touch him.

Phil and Lorraine, after I read your comment, Sam said, If it wasnt for them only two pictures would be on the wall. Then he looked around and said that was a slight exaggeration. :-) For those of you who havent seen Sams room, it looks the least like a room in a nursing home that you can imagine. The walls are covered with art five paintings done by Phil and/or Lorraine and a print they gave him, plus other prints and art given to him by other folks and photos photos photos. Its quite a happy-feeling place, even if (like Jennifer) we all wish he didnt have to be stuck there quite so much. Anyway, Sam was glad to hear that Molly liked the ocean and enjoyed the reference to her saying so. Were those shorts yips of pleasure or long howls of longing when it came to leave? :-)

Jennifer, of course Sam is thrilled you and James had such a wonderful time in China. Thats great! After I read your greeting, Ciao Bello!! he told me you had lived in Italy for 4-5 years or so. He nodded to acknowledge receipt of your and Ediths virtual hugs and kisses. He doesnt know about Greg, and hopes Pat (or Greg) will fill us all in on the doctors visit. Its been (I got the feeling) a long time since Greg and his wife came to visit.

The memory of Hatch did come back to him, including the definition and proper German pronunciation. He seemed quite pleased to have this spark of memory triggered. :-) When I read your Catch ya at the look-out point he grinned: We always said that! And provided the Spanish: Hasta la vista! At the end of your email he sighed, contentedly. I always have to say she loves me. Were both glad your back safe and sound. Hes looking forward to your jokes and next adventures. :-)

After getting through all this mail (!), Sam told me Dr. Daily was in yesterday. Hes the guy that gives Sam his anti-prostate cancer shots every six months. But, he didnt give them to Sam yesterday because Sams PSA was too low. Sam doesnt remember what the PSA is, exactly, and guesses Dr. Daily will be in touch with his regular doc, Tom Hoskins to discuss whatever this means and what to do about it. Sam thinks Dr. Daily is nice but suspects he might retire soon, and wonders what hell tell Tom and what it means. Dr. Daily just came in for a minute and asked one question about whether or not it burns when Sam urinates. Were assuming that the fact that it doesnt is a good sign. Tom comes by every 2-3 months, and was by probably about three weeks ago. We agreed that Id call his office and leave a message that Sam would like to know whats up with the PSA, shots, and all.

So. We got through all of this just in time for me to wheel Sam down to the service. I hung out a few moments while he greeted some folk, then left them to their worship. Sam was looking and sounding very well today, it sure brightens him up to know all of you are thinking of him.

Im going to do my best to see Sam weekly even after my classes start up next week. Keep your messages, news, and jokes coming! Hugs from us both.

Posted by Steph at 12:24 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

August 28, 2004

The shiner is fading

Visited with Sam for an hour yesterday. His black eye is healing although there's a visible rim of bruising along the bottom edge, following his cheekbone. He was in good spirits even though he'd just woken up from his afternoon nap. We couldn't decide if his speech was a bit slurry because he'd just woken up or because he'd had a beer (!) with lunch. (He didn't want his sister to know that he still had access to alcohol, even though he doesn't drink that much - anymore! - and even tried to change the subject on me when I asked him about including it in the blog. :-) He finally decided Edith would probably tolerate his indiscretion - not like its "news" or anything!)

Speaking of which, Edith,

Speaking of which, Edith, Sam couldn't place the tag, "hatch". We brainstormed - was it a nickname? A game? A gift? Nothing rang a bell. You'll have to explain! He's looking forward to the pictures with Clara. Sorry about Chelinna's illness (but glad she's better) and the termites! Yikes! He sends his thanks, too, for the rest of your news.

Nona, that joke you sent about the Catholic Horses? Somehow, when I printed it the punch line got cut off, so I'll have to take it next time. At any rate, keep those jokes coming! The rest of you too - Sam really loves them. :-)

Dick, you and Emily are in Sam's thoughts. He knows that it must be very stressful for you both and hopes everything goes well with the surgery. Please keep us posted, ok?

Our overall conversation today floated around quite a bit. Sam's first comment when I arrived was about how great it was that [the BM] had visited him. :-) Then he asked about [the FP], with a bit of an implication about how the two of us are doing. (My next stop was therapy with her, so I was watching the clock in order not to be late. As I departed, I said, "wish me luck" and he said "you sound like you're going to your deathbed." It wasn't THAT bad, although I wouldn't exactly call it fun. It went ok.)

Sam had a Bostonia magazine that had a front page story on homeschooling, so we talked about that for a bit, whether or not we 'agreed' with the notion or not, what (minimal) experience/exposure each of us had with it. He wanted me to notice the quilt that was made for him by ICT students from SIT sometime ago - it's a big one. (The ICT program is now the PIM program - Program in Intercultural Management.) And a sketch that a woman who "was married to a Cuban" made of him in "less than half-an-hour."

We debated the likeness. Sam says he thinks it does look like him. For me, it was a bit of a stretch because of the eyes....he looks somber, not happy, and I think he really is happy most of the time. One of the nurses had told him that it "doesn't allow for personality," and I decided it represents his thoughtful side. When I said this, he said, "Oh." I said "what do you think you don't have one?!!" He grinned, you know he LOVES teasing. :-) Somehow this got us back on the subject of his speaking.

Barbara Dunn and the activities director, Karen, had both commented on Sam's speech being clearer recently. I think it has a lot to do with his energy level. I mentioned how proud I was that [the BM] had listened carefully enough to understand him, and that I think the strategy of repeating what I think he's said for clarity is still a good one. He said that people (unspecified) often "assume a lot" about what he is trying to say. There was a something in the way he said it that made me ask, "too much?" And he nodded. Which reinforces for me, again, that is important to verify understanding.

The other bit of news that Sam had was that two women who both lived in Eden Park had died recently. He had a bouquet of flowers from Ruth Fellows' funeral. Sam used to take her Meals on Wheels when she lived at Putney Meadows. She was 99. The other woman, Peg Sisko (sp?) was over 100.

School starts for me next week, but I'm going to try my best to keep seeing Sam regularly. My goal is once a week, but it might turn out to be more like once every two weeks. Please keep your comments and jokes coming; he really really looks forward to them.

Best to all!

Posted by Steph at 8:37 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

August 16, 2004

Sam's black eye

Went to see Uncle Sam today, and does he have a shiner! He fell last week, right into one of the tables, but says, "You should see the other guy!" He doesn't seem too much the worse for wear, but he isn't looking forward to another round in that boxing ring. I told him I had five (count 'em, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5!) head injuries as a child and it was too late for him to join the competition. Just give up now!

His speech was really clear today, maybe cuz I'd just caught him after nap? (Actually, I woke him up, he was in his "nun gear".) Betty helped get him up, and did she ever talk a mile a minute! I haven't seen in her...about a year , and she was jazzed. Sam says she's always like that, but I don't remember quite that level of effusiveness. Anyway, she told us about her son taking her up to Maine for a week. She had a blast. :-)

After she left, Sam said he'd lost his touch at small talk. I said, nah, you've just decided to put your energy towards other things. He had a medical report from his hospital trip a while ago to check out his swallowing. Neither of us understood the medical terminology - bolus, valliculae - but he knew "aspiration". He said it had to do with drawing breathe into his stomach when he swallows. The dictionary definition isn't so clear, but maybe I should check a medical definition. At any rate, he wants everyone to know that the results were "very good!" - he doesn't need a food thickener.

Pat - he's loving that CD by Josh Groban. He says Josh has a "particularly well-suited voice for singing Spanish." From my quick glance at the cover, it looks like about half n half, half the songs in English, half in Spanish. ('Am I right?) ;-)

I told him about my mom's partner, John, who died last week. Sam told me he doesn't think about dying (this is a BIG change from his first year in the nursing home). He listens to the tv a lot. He can't read - blurry vision - so the tv is really it. When he's bored, he sleeps. And he sleeps well. Doesn't remember his dreams. Says he sleeps a lot. But he was also "disturbed about John." I guess I have some mixed feelings too, and I know my mom does, but they made the decision together to send him to the nursing home because of the level of care he needed. What we need is a world in which people don't feel they have to send their loved ones off to die alone because the economic system doesn't tolerate human feeling.

We talked about the blog; he's especially interested to know if people are posting comments. I told him most of the responses were via email, but a few people had posted direct comments. I explained that I've been summarizing the emails and posting them as comments so folks in Sam's circle can also get news about each other. We talked about ways to widen the reach of this blog, so that Sam's still in touch with more people. You know that being social was the mission of his life! We thought about putting some kind of announcement in the World Learning newsletter (formerly, The Experiment, am I right?), and also at his old church. We know he has good friends who have organized the guest list for the last couple of parties - he had two living memorial ceremonies. They were a hoot! Anyway, we're definitely in the market for more email addresses to anyone who knows Sam.

Nora, Sam did get Cory's thank you (and said he would also be pleased to receive a check in the mail as a gift!), and hopes that Cody is ok, wherever he is. Sam wondered what George Young's wife was doing in Colorado? Or did you travel somewhere to attend her funeral? Sam was already aware that Kelly is going to school to become an RN and wishes her the best of luck.

I read a letter from Sam's sister Edith to him. It included a couple of jokes: Bush's 9/11 Commission and their task to develop a Cliff's Notes version, and 30 reasons men should prefer dogs to wives. If you didn't know already (!), Sam has a w-i-d-e breadth of apprecation for humor. He particularly likes them the more insolent and outrageous they become. (His mail has been censored by the nursing home. He hasn't decided to sue them yet for infringing on his civil right of access to free speech...but if they give him too much of a hard time....well, YOU know Sam!)

One thing I wanted to check was this "diagnosis" that Sam and I thought we figured out a couple years ago. (I have some posts about Sam that aren't yet catalogued in the "Sam" thread. Sorry - hope to get to it soon.) We always figured it was aphasia - similar to Ram Dass's experience. But the swallowing report today listed his history as "dysphasia. basal ganglia." The basal ganglia (I typed banal the first time!!!) is, I'm guessing, the cerebellum. That's the part of his brain that is deteriorating. We were trying to decide today if that deterioration counts as "brain damage" or not. That's part of the (apparent) conditions for aphasia.

Well, it turns out dysphasia is a milder form and probably more accurate a description of what's going on for Sam. The thing that bothers me about these definitions is their highlighting of [lack of] comprehension, because Sam has lost NONE of his, and I think it's the same kind of prejudice that hearing ("normal", non-deaf) people have about the Deaf. That they somehow don't understand. But Sam understands perfectly, there's just this damn motor coordination thing with his mouth. The trick is, Sam understands through his ears (no need to increase volume, at least, I haven't noticed this yet. Today he asked me a couple of times to repeat myself, but I think my voice may have been quieter than usual.) Deaf people understand with - via - their eyes. The channel of communication has little bearing upon the capacity of the mind.

We haven't had an incident of Sam coming up with the wrong word in ages. Not that I noticed, anyway. There have been a few times when it was clear there was No Way I was going to understand what he was trying to say. %-) I suspect there's a combination of the less-than-perfect motor control of speech with some emotional and intellectual frustration. Emotional, cuz haven't you had the experience of trying to get something that seems simple and basic to you across without the other person getting it? And intellectual because in Sam logic whatever he's trying to say Makes Perfect Sense! It's logical, and why can't we follow his logic?

I notice I'm generalizing. I am assuming that it's not just me who doesn't get it sometimes. Maybe you miss something different than I do, which means you catch some things that I don't, but it's awful dang possible that I catch some things that you miss too! That's why I'm advocating a team approach.

Some of you I miss a lot! And I know Sam does too. You've got to admire his spirit.

Posted by Steph at 5:59 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

August 5, 2004

Uncle Sam

[The BM] came with me to visit Sam today. They haven't seen each other for a long time. I was surprised ~ and happy ~ when she said, "Let's go there first!" She's seemed more eager and willing to see me lately; we had a cozy time.

Sam's speech is getting a lot harder to understand, but after awhile [the BM] could understand what he was saying without needing me to translate. She's been afraid to go see him for a long while now. I think its been too hard to see what's happening to Sam's body at the same time that her dad was sick. The nursing home isn't the greatest place in the world...one of those social services we can't seem to fully fund...anyway, today Hannah commented, "I don't know if I'd want to work here." I said, "It's a really hard job."

A lot of the staff is great. Larry helped us today (we walked in, no Sam! he was actually in the restroom. shh!) but there are others too - Sam is great about always making introductions(!). Many of the nurses and aides are really friendly.

Sam was happy to see us, commented on how cute [the BM] is (as if she doesn't get that all the time!), and immediately inquired about school, what grade she's be entering this fall. She didn't understand him, so I repeated what he said (with a bit of a question to him verifying I'd heard accurately.) After we checked out some of his toys (a stuffed teddy bear and yak from Christmas, a rocket-ride from his birthday, he asked [the BM] about her travels. She asked me if that meant only after school was out and I said, "No, you can tell him everything." So she did: Utah, Paris, Czech Republic (oh, and Austria and Germany)..."and in about a week I'm going to Nova Scotia!"

Sam quizzed her about Paris and she must have named two dozen places. :-)

They were chatting along pretty well now (I had already made a bunch of jokes about my "wild guesses. Sam knows what he's trying to say, and I know he knows what he's trying to say," but I don't know what he's trying to say and sometimes my guesses are pretty wild, "we just forge on," etc.). Sam did ask about one place in Paris (forgive the French I can't even try to spell) and we couldn't figure it out, but [the BM] did then recall another place we hadn't already heard about. :-)

By now, [the BM] was about done with being there. She got hungry, so we had to boogie.

I should share though, that I read out loud to Sam the emails and comments I received after the last blog. He was visibly shaken, Dick, when he learned the news about Emily. "Tell him I am terribly upset by Emily's condition. And very upset that she was hospitalized for so long." He sends all his love and best wishes to both of you, along with all your family and friends.

Jean, Sam was also sad to learn about your step-daughter but hopes she stays in remission. He wants you to know that he also thinks of you and misses you.

He misses everyone, I think, but is in amazingly good spirits given the way his whole dang body has just crapped out on him.

Posted by Steph at 11:20 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 31, 2004

driving day!

Took Sam out today. I was only available in the afternoon, when he's already tired, so we were only out for an hour 1/2. Drove up to his house in Putney - past "the red house" (which is now a pale yellow) and looked things over. Sam wishes "someone would take an interest in the yard", but then shrugged his shoulders. What can he do? He's more philosophical in a real way about stuff like that than anyone else I know. Just accepts things as given. We cruised down the Gustafson's driveway to take a look at the new skylight (they weren't home).

Then we headed into "downtown Putney" via the Putney School. Sam wanted to check out the new art building, and he never misses an opportunity to explain that 80% of the school's students lose their virginity in the barn. :-) Once in Putney, we pulled into the town hall parking lot to check out the new war memorial, dedicated last November. Sam's name is the first one under the Korean Conflict. We also checked out Wayne Austin, POW, WWII, who apparently still hangs out at the Putney General Store with his coffee every morning.

For dinner, Sam had Burger King french fries. A large. With ketchup. :-) Barbara dropped in with breakfast muffins; she was off to a Yellow Barn concert. I'm not sure if that was with the woman she'd just run into who lives in Marlboro and travels a lot for SIT (but whose name she couldn't remember in the moment, smile), or another friend. I might have missed the change in subject.

Sam's room is currently festooned with balloons and cards from his recent birthday. There is a gorgeous new piece of art from Phil and Lorraine with the ABC's of Sam and several wonderful photos. Also toys out the gazoo! Lee may have had something (a lot?!) to do with that. :-)

His speech is getting harder to understand. It's more marked when he's tired, of course. We complicated matters by insisting on having the windows down while we were driving around - which led to some interesting conversational twists and turns. :-) I had to ask for repetitions many times, and once quipped about having fun playing detective. :-) Sam laughed. Keeping it light helps. Being patient, listening hard, slowing down the internal clock, and repeating back what one thinks he said seems to help. Otherwise his health seems ok, although he was in the hospital Monday to drink some barium ("tastes like chalk") so they could take some pictures of his esophagus. We didn't quite finish that conversation but I think it's relating to him having some trouble with swallowing. He's a bit more slumped than before also. Today, after the drive, he was slumped to the left in his chair, but usually he says he slumps right. That ol' cerebellum is just checking out a wee bit more all the time. It's surprising to me how much of the physical can deteriorate without a corresponding lapse in the mental. He is still sharp as a whip and funny as a stand-up comic.

I'd say all indicators are good that he's still gonna be around for the long haul. :-) I told him about dad's recent car accident and the stroke he had a month ago; Sam told me about going to a funeral last week, Jack Wallace, his former boss at The Experiment in International Living. Although it seems like we ended on a down note, I don't think that's accurate. Sam was thrilled to get out for even a short time and check out things in his beloved Putney. Sharing news about what's important is just what Sam does with any and all of his friends. I sure feel blessed to be among them. :-)

Posted by Steph at 8:12 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

July 27, 2004

Sam's Autobiography

Well, I finally got software that converts scanned documents into PDF files. It left a rather obnoxious streak that I'll need to investigate, but it's readable. Of course, I still can't get the durn thing uploaded!

Hoping to take Sam driving this Saturday but it's a complicated affair....probably the wrong weekend to borrow [the FP]'s car as she's cooking for friends' civil union. :-( Time's running out (between vacation schedules and all).

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July 13, 2004

Sam and F 9/11

Sam says its more intense than "fun" but that everyone needs to see it. He also said I was brave for taking him out - NOT! Of course, I did almost pitch him faceforward onto the sidewalk in front of the Latchis ([the FP] envisioned him rolling into Main Street), but no such accident actually occurred and we had a grand time. He's not that hard to get around as he can still use his legs just enough to help one get him up and pivoted in the desired directions.


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July 4, 2004

Sam says

"Love is a ticklish sensation around your heart that turns out to be a pain-in-the-ass."

Visited with Sam yesterday, post-birthday (June 28). His room was profuse with flowers (Lee�s doing?) and about 30 birthday cards from around the world. He was in good spirits, although markedly slowed down. No evidence of aphasia, but time moves at a completely different pace for him and one must be able to adjust in order to communicate smoothly. He's felt a loss of energy that he brought it up with his doc last week, who told him that he had a lot more energy now than he did 2-3 months ago. He seemed more alert and engaged to me than he did during my winter visits.

Sam wanted to know if I'd been in touch with Lee (not for awhile), or anyone else. I thought I had a recent letter from the Vecchiati's (his Brazilian family) with me but the ones I had were old � I have to scour my inbox and see if there's one I didn�t manage to get printed yet. P&L are forewarned of a dental bill. Jennifer is wished well. Sam was trying to find a letter from Manjeca to share with me but we were unable to locate it. Very sorry to hear that she's having a rough time these days.

Updated Sam on my mom's recent move, he's glad she's happy but I could see it distressed him that John has declined so much. Did not tell him about my dad's recent mild stroke; time for that later. He inquired about [the BM] :-) she's a trooper, there's just no other way to describe her skills at navigating so many difficult parental dynamics - and [the FP] (we had a good talk yesterday and I left without crying, a huge improvement). He also asked about Petr. We're all concerned that either the cancer has returned or there is some other health complication. Not much good news on the health and happiness front these days. sigh

Meanwhile, Sam was upbeat and ready for an outing. I�ll pick him up Wednesday to go to the early showing of Fahrenheit 9-11. It�s an unflattering view of Bush (to say the least), but I think Moore has done a good job of NOT making it against all Republicans or even all conservatives. And he doesn�t go out of his way to make the Democrats look that great either � it�s really a critique of Bush and his close circle�s unpalatable exercise of power.

Anyway, when Sam hesitated about the movie (or seemed to � I think he was actually working out the logistics in his mind), I said he could stay there on his butt if he preferred. Got a huge grin. Of course he�s gung ho for it. :-) We spent some time talking about voting; seems he is the only resident of Eden Park who votes. That�s a sad commentary on health care, in and of itself � the reinforcement of disenfranchisement. I told him he has his work cut out for the fall. :-)

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January 27, 2004

doing alright!

Visited with Sam last night for a couple of hours. Finally. He was in pretty good spirits and had good energy - he's just recovered from an awful flu-bug that actually sent him to the hospital for a short stay. He really enjoyed seeing his niece, Jennifer, at Christmas and is looking forward to another visit from her and her mom (his sister, Edith) in February. He got lots of good Christmas presents (and is still doling some out to company) and enjoyed time with his friends and god-children.

We gave him the video Nosey Parker, he was going to watch it last night. He just finished watching the 10-part series, Band of Brothers.

I'm now hoping I don't get whatever he had; the third floor was still under semi-quarantine and I had to wear a mask the whole time I was there. (Cross your fingers for me, ok?) :-)

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September 2, 2003

Well, Sam and I hung

Well, Sam and I hung out for a couple hours yesterday. No drive - too rainy, and he's still got a cold. I finally read him everything I've posted in here about him. That's the plan; that I'll catch him up every now and then, depending on the action. He didn't say too much about it, just grinned. :-) I asked him if there was anything I shouldn't have said. "No." Anything I got wrong? "No." So here we are.

School started today for most of my compatriots. My first day of class is tomorrow. Can already feel the intensity....but....I'll go in with a slightly different mindset this year than last. I have a better sense what I'm in for, and a strategy for managing things better. Or so I think. :-0

Got a bit of a backlog for posting here. Realize I haven't given credit to most of my sources; is that bad form? Many of the links I post here come off of the social justice listserv from my Master's program at UMass. Interesting stuff just about every day. Some things come from my current program's email list. Others occasionally from friends. More still I glean from magazines or mail.I haven't yet carved out that much time to just go hunting on the 'Net myself. I do it occasionally, or when I'm after something specific. Don't want to be given credit for more than my due. (As if!)

Teaching Respect for All
, the annual conference put on by GLSEN looks great. (Their mailer is sexier than their website, oh well.)

Some facts they report:

"4/5 LGBT students report being harassed because of their sexual orientation."
"1/3 LGBT students report skipping school in the last month out of fear for their personal safety."
"41.9% of LBGT students report being physically harassed because of their sexual orientation."
"LGBT students who report knowing of supportive faculty or staff are more likely to fell they belong in school."

In addition to LGBT concerns (mostly secondary level, I think), they're also doing a track on the Holocaust. As I've been reading Piercy's book about WWII I've started wondering about parallels to the present state of military affairs. Seems like a world war to me. Piercy wrote, from the viewpoint of the writer in the story, Louise: "She had interviewed enough refugees to know what they thought they were fighting for: they were defeating Fascism or liberating their homeland or fighting for their own freedom to be whatever they were that had become illegal or dangerous, Jews or Masons or Communists or Socialists or Seventh-Day Adventists, avant-garde painters, surrealist writers. Or they were simply fighting like the Russians for survival, because the Germans planned to annihilate them. But Americans were fighting for a higher standard of living. They were fighting their way out of the Depression. They were fighting for the goods they saw in advertisements and in movies about how the middle class lived" (p. 421).

Rather grim.

Hey Raz - when you gonna show your rebelliously quirky self in here, eh? Todd materialized today...will see if we can re-group as a cohort or no....sent them all a poem today - To The Virgins, to Make Much of Time.

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August 31, 2003

It's a beautiful day! Was

It's a beautiful day! Was supposed to take Sam for a drive, but he's got a cold. We'll try again tomorrow. Cleaned out the barn this morning; still have the garage to go...treated myself to an hour's leisure read on the back deck, started reading Marge Piercy's Gone to Soldiers while we were in Germany.

A handful of responses to the emails on the mentoring project; looking good! The main issue now is getting more concrete about the structure of the group meetings and how people can bring in their own areas of expertise. We've got a few weeks to sort this out.

Micheal Moore has published a letter contrasting Bush's fundraising activities with rising unemployment, job loss, and compensation losses (Moore also implicates Clinton's "Welfare to Work" program). To wit: "As Ron Eibensteiner, chairman of the Minnesota Republican Party, left the [Bush fundraising] event in St. Paul, he was met by hundreds of demonstrators. Being the dignified, freedom-loving, compassionate conservative we all wish we could be, Eibensteiner leaned over a police barricade toward the protestors and yelled, GET A JOB!

Dr. Vandana Shiva will speak in Northampton next Wednesday, 3rd at 7 pm (First Churches, 129 Main St). Wish I could go!

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August 28, 2003

Dropped in on Sam this

Dropped in on Sam this (yesterday) morning to plan a countryside drive this weekend. We got to talking about "belonging" and he asked me how long I'd been in Vermont - wouldn't you know it was my ten-year anniversary! A solid decade. That means I'm on the verge of setting a longevity record - we lived in Denver for about 10 years when I was a kid (aged 4-14). Wow.

Sam noted some of the characteristics of Vermonters, concluding that "we're direct, but we get things done quietly." I thought that was an appropriate motto for starting to facilitate the mentoring grant project today...but when I told Sam I was going to work on accomplishing directness in a quiet fashion he said, "I doubt it." Alas! My personality precedes me. :-)

The trouble with indirectness is that in some venues it just doesn't translate. For instance, I think Sam's desire to have me write about him here is not only that old friends and family read "the news," but that they actually engage with each other (through the comments function). And, what do you want to bet he wouldn't mind it if he made new friends this way? Or at least got somebody thinking about something...I suspect (because Sam certainly hasn't said anything so blatant) that being published on the web is an act of life for Sam. It's a way of asserting the fact that he IS still thinking, feeling, curious, engaged, and caring, even if his body is crapping out on him. He wants to do what he has always done - bring people together to share their experiences in stimulating ways.

Discussions about family have been percolating lately. For me, because in so many ways I feel without family - not the kind that gives that rooted sense of belonging. So I'm always seeking connections in other places. Which connections/needs can family fulfill, and which can (perhaps should, or need to) be satisfied elsewhere?

The mentoring grant meeting went all right today, I guess. It was grueling setting the schedule, but we got it done and responded to technical and methodological concerns that were raised. The turnout was great - yahoo! Hopefully the momentum will build and energize us all. Its going to be a consuming project for me and Li for the next 9 weeks, there's no doubt! (Then we'll get a break until the massive editing push in January.)

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August 14, 2003

dinner with Sam

[the FP] and I had dinner with Sam on Monday night; it was really good to see him but he was bumming when we left. Barbara Durst had also dropped in - she regaled us with stories about her travels to Afghanistan and other places. And we're getting ready to go to Germany. I think Sam was really feeling the loss of traveling himself. I know Lee has mentioned something to him about trying to get somewhere, and I certainly think we could pull it off with some coordination and commitment from folk. Probably have to hire an attendant to come along (the dude is still tall, and he needs help with most things these days) but there's no medical reason he couldn't travel; it's just all the access issues. Where does he really want to go? :-)

Got a load of things to complete tonight and tomorrow morning...busy busy. Haven't even packed yet!

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June 13, 2003

Ah................my main man is back!

Ah................my main man is back! :-) Truth is, there just haven't ever been that many guys in my life. I've never been a separatist in any political sense (I certainly understand why some women are, and think we need those places/spaces for women to retreat from the still overwhelming patriarchal forms of everyday life), but, there just haven't been that many men for whom I've felt affinity. There are increasingly more men that I personally care about and want to connect with, most from the Com Dept, but also within the Deaf community and around town. Anyway, long way of getting around to talking about Uncle Sam.

Sam had a hell of a winter. His body is just plain giving out on him but his mind is so sharp, and his spirit continues to be so generous and live-giving. I hadn't visited him in five weeks (perhaps the longest spell since he moved to the nursing home, two years ago now), but he was much more perky and engaged than he had been during my last few visits. He asked about the on-going family dramas (H&P; me&B) - when he's down he doesn't ask, my guess is because he doesn't want to know any more "bad" news. So that was cool. Then I read him a couple of chapters from The Alienist, which is fun. Because I had enough time to really hang out, we started talking about "the important stuff," which is always what I have loved so much about him. Sam never flinches from acknowledging the emotional subtext of things. (He may not always say something about them, but you know he knows.)

He asked me if I'd read Tuesdays with Morrie, which of course several of us read right after he moved into the nursing home, at his request. (That he had forgotten is one of the minor evidences that occasionally show up regarding his mental state.) I always understood that it was his way of reaching out, asking for people to stay in contact with him, not leave him alone through the dying process. He's not literally dying yet, but its on his mind almost all the time: I'm pretty sure that the only times he isn't thinking about it is when he has company. Anyway, I told him about the idea I had to use this blog for some kind of "study" of subjectivity - my own, but obviously if I'm writing about my reactions and thoughts to him then I'll be revealing a lot of info about him too. I suggested that we could maybe use it as a way of reaching out to the people who know him - they can keep a bit more up-to-date on him (even if the picture is refracted through my lens), and even - if inclined - post their own comments and engage in more of a dialogue with him. I'll print stuff for him, and can even take dictation from him if he wants.

"What do you get out of coming here?" he asked me. Besides just liking Sam, I told him its one of the few places where I feel I can be completely uncensored: be mad if I'm mad, complain, whine, whatever. Exercise the sharper edges of my sense of humor - I just don't have to worry about his reaction, "because I don't give a shit what you think." He laughed, "If I even react at all!" He mentioned that all his family is in Colorado and California, and asked me what it was like for me having my family far away. "I worry sometimes that I might feel guilty later for not having pursued relationships with my family more vigorously, but I think the nurturing that inspires a close relationship just didn't happen when I was young, so there isn't much of an emotional basis for connecting." I do miss my brother, but I told Sam that as much as I love him, I just don't know how to connect with him while he's so messed up.

Sam said he hadn't nurtured relationships with his brothers very much. But he's the youngest and I think the burden is always on those who are older to reach out and make the connection meaningful. This Christmas is the first time, he said, that he hadn't called his brothers' widows. (Sam was the youngest of a dozen, there's only himself and two sisters left, and then nieces, nephews, godchildren, etc.) There's a way in which Sam is "alone," that I can relate with; we are without family in somewhat similar ways. I know that some of my emotional functioning - what I feel, fear, and sometimes act upon - is that there is no "group" of belonging for me. Even with B&H I'm a bit on the outside. It fluxes, with the DoMH a bit more fluidly than with the FP. The DoMH and I do cycles of closeness and distance; sometimes it seems to me that the times of distancing are increasing, but then we'll re-connect...the FP and I have done distance for so long that whatever cycle there might be is operating on the basis of years, not weeks or months as it is with the DoMH. It seems to be shifting recently, which is nice, but (as I told Sam) I'm not getting excited about it. We'll see what happens.

I also told Sam that one of the things I appreciate about visiting him is that it always makes me think of these important things - death/dying, what really matters, after all? What's a life worth living? His first winter at Eden Park I read a book about dying to him; we spent hours talking about the process and the connections between his own body's decline and the experience of the author, Ram Dass. It was reading that book when we discovered that his speech problem isn't mechanical, it's cognitive - a very mild (at least for now) kind of aphasia: the brain is looking for a certain term, and substitutes the wrong thing but thinks it is correct. It's a misfire between thinking and speaking; the words come out and Sam thinks he said what he meant, but one of the words is the opposite of his intention. So, sometimes he's slow. It's a good experience for me to alter my always on-the-go pace to his much more measured (and calm!) mode.

Anyway, in case you're wondering, Sam did approve my writing about him here. "It's a good idea."

Note: edited from names to codes on October 2, 2005.

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