Thursday, February 24, 2011


The word "caregiver" conjures up images of healthcare, companionship and moral support.  What many people do not consider is that so much time is devoted to being a manager.  The amount of paperwork can be staggering.  Bureaucracy is intimidating.  If caregiving is stressful, managing is exhausting and mostly unrewarding.  When one signs on to be a caregiver for a loved one they never expect that the total realm of the job will take on that of CEO.

When my aunt Theresa began to fail at the age of 93, my sister and I had to step in.  Luckily she had appointed us as Power of Attorney several years earlier.  This legally enabled us to act on her behalf in her best interest.  At first I took over her bill-paying and straightened out her finances.  She had always been meticulous but the early stages of dementia had taken its toll on her book keeping.

When her condition further deteriorated, we had to make the difficult decision to place her in a nursing facility.  Now what were we supposed to do?  After the limited time that insurance would pay for her stay, the facility charges a staggering $355.00 per day.  That is roughly $11,000.00 per month.  I continue to think of how luxuriously I could be living on that kind of money for housing.

Theresa owned her own modest two-family home which we would have to sell.  Trying to sell any home in the current real estate market is difficult and time consuming but a house that hadn't been updated in 50 years was going to be impossible.

After quite a bit of research I decided that a reverse mortgage would be our best hope.  The reverse mortgage process was simple enough and took about 5 weeks from start to finish.  Now the paperwork had begun!  First there was the application process which required copies of documents which I had to hunt down.  Then there was a required phone interview.  Then, finally the closing process.  The closing required my signing in no less that 130 places on the documents.  Not only did I have to sign, but I had to sign in the extended and clumsy legally required "owner's name by my full name 'as attorney in fact'".  That was quite a challenge for a guy with Carpal Tunnel problems!  It was made worse because they changed their mind as to the exact signature format half-way though the process and I had to go back and revise all those signatures.

I chose to go with a reverse mortgage because it would buy time.  I could use some of the funds to pay the nursing home.  I would use some funds to renovate the house in order to make it salable.  I would allocate some of the money to fund everything while waiting for the house to sell.  I figured it gave me about a year to have the house sold.

Before any real work could get started, my sister and I had to spend several weeks sorting through my aunt's possessions.  Not only is this tedious and back-breaking, it's emotionally draining.  It's thought provoking when you see what a life boils down to.  As a side note, I went home every evening and began to sort though my own possessions and make donations.

We did months of renovations to the house.  I hired a contractor, electrician and plumber.  We used four large dumpsters for building debris and a large part of fifty years of accumulation.  We donated huge amounts of clothing and household items to charitable organizations.

Anyone who has ever experienced home renovation or has seen "The Money Pit" understands what a management job this is.  Planning, design, decisions, budget, permits and delays rule your life.

Finally the house is finished, the tenants have vacated, the house is "staged to sell" and the realtor is chosen.  More paperwork for the realtor agreement.  The house is officially "on the market".

All that work, time and money paid off.  We had a buyer in less than a week!  In any market economy that would be impressive and in this "burst bubble" it was amazing.  Now more bureaucracy:  sign the contracts,  wait for home inspectors,  haggle over required upgrades, and  spend more money for asbestos removal.

Now the waiting game.  We found the buyer in 6 days.  The buyer had to wait months for financing.  We had to continue to carry the house.  Now winter was here which meant I had to heat the house.  Not only did I have to heat the empty house but I had to worry about heating the empty house through blizzards, sub-zero temperatures and storms. I had to keep checking to be sure the heat was working.  I had to keep the snow shoveled.  I had to worry about vandals.

Finally after several postponements it was closing day for the sale of the house.  Oh, good.  More paperwork, more [full, legal, expanded] signatures.  Done!  No more worry about the empty house.  The "albatross" had been removed from around my neck.  I'm ecstatic!  Free sailing from here on out, at least as far as the property was concerned.

That feeling of liberation and satisfaction was brief.  Now it is time to apply for Medicaid so that when all of my aunt's hard-earned money has been used to pay for her nursing home stay, the government insurance will begin to pick up the tab.  "Government" is the operative word here.  Not only do you have to spend your life's savings but then there is a 50 page application to be filled out.  Along with that application you have to submit endless amounts of supporting documentation.  You have to provide five years of bank statements,  receipts  for expenditures over $3000.00 each and every other form of legal document you can think of.  You have to dig up everything from birth certificate to tax returns, marriage certificate, spouse's death certificate...and the list goes on.

I'm half-way though collecting the required documentation.  So far the stack of copies on my desk has reached 20 inches.  It is a nearly impossible task to document someone else's life this way.  My aunt was very fastidious about keeping records and document and I am still having a dreadful time filling in the blanks.

I can't wait to get back to only having to worry about my normal duties as caregiver for my mother.  Sitting quietly doing my own personal work will be a pleasure.

Friday, February 18, 2011


Italian Ricotta Cake

This is a wonderfully simple recipe which is actually an embellishment to a boxed cake mix. A guaranteed pleaser,  when I serve this for company everyone begs for the recipe. My family loves it.  My friends love it.  I love it.  Don't let the rustic appearance fool you.  This cake is moist and creamy, light and satisfying.  There is a cake layer on the bottom with the scrumptious ricotta cheese layer on the top.  You can bake it in one large rectangle cake pan but I prefer to bake it in two 9 inch round pans.  I usually put one of the baked cakes in the freezer for a future treat!

1 package white cake mix* and ingredients listed on box

in addition:
4 eggs
1 cup sugar
2 pounds ricotta
1 teaspoon vanilla**

Preheat oven to 350*
grease and flour 1(9 x 13) or 2 (9" round) pans

Prepare cake mix as directed on box and pout into prepared pan(s).

In the same mixing bowl that you used for the cake mix, combine eggs, sugar, ricotta and vanilla and mix well. Pour cheese mixture over the cake batter in the pan(s).

Bake in preheated oven 1 hour 10 minutes for the rectangle or 50 minutes for the round cakes.  Cakes are done when golden and firm.

Cool in pans.
Turn out onto plates or tray and dust with confectioner's sugar just before serving.

I like to serve this with fresh raspberry puree drizzled on the plate.

*yellow or flavored cakes can be substituted
**orange juice or Amaretto can be substituted

Friday, February 4, 2011


Pasta with Artichokes

This is a very simple, delicious and flexible recipe.  Light and satisfying, you can add, remove or substitute vegetables and even shrimp or clams.  I Like to keep mine to about 4 main ingredients served over angel hair pasta.

1/4 cup olive oil
1 stick salted butter
1 clove elephant or 4 cloves regular garlic [chopped]
One 10 ounce bag frozen artichoke hearts
2 carrots [peeled and rough chopped]
2 tablespoons chopped onion
2 tablespoons sliced sun dried tomatoes [in oil]
6 leaves fresh basil
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1 cup canned garbanzo beans [optional]
Freshly grated Romano or Parmesan cheese
Prepared pasta of choice


In a large skillet, combine oil and butter and let the butter melt over medium heat.  Boil the carrots until just fork-tender.  Cook the artichoke hearts in microwave as directed on package. Sweat the garlic and onion in the oil until translucent but do not let brown.  When the garlic/onion are cooked, add the drained carrots and the artichoke hearts.  Continue to simmer on low and add the 
sun dried tomatoes, oregano, salt, black and red pepper [to taste].

 Drain pasta, reserving 3/4 cup of the cooking water.  Toss in a large bowl with the artichoke mixture.  Add reserved cooking water as needed for a shiny, moist dish. Toss in the basil.
Serve with grated cheese at the table.