My husband, y’all……….

Posts this stuff.

 

And this.

And this.

I’m trying to work here.  But I watch anyway.

Why?  Why do I stop my narrative of growing up as a child of a hoarder?  Working on a fabulous mind-blowing memoir that involves not just Micheal Jackson but Elvis too?  )(YES IT DOES FREAKING READ IT AT SOME POINT IN THE NEAR FUTURE)

Like, serious stuff, you know?

Why?  Because I married a man who sleeps in a room filled with the ’77 AND the ’80 action figures.  Because I find tableaus like this:

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He’s a LOTR person.

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We were watching a lot of Vikings.

Oh, Batman… geeze.

“WHUT? Don’t fish go in the water?”

bruce & arthur

 

Yup.  Every morning I look for some subtle change.  Like this.

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Geeze. Then there’s the Kadra Work Farm.  Seriously.  He has this whole plot where the stormtroopers are rehabilitated down on the work farm.  Such things as this:

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Seems to be working for him.

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Sometimes, things happen.  You know.  The warden has talked about the troopers propensity of not texting and farming, but you know. It happens.  People gonna do what people gonna do.  Or clones. Or whatever.

 

 

 

And then there’s the desk.  I sit down to check email and find his (extremely) beautiful daughter now has a guard.

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And Deadpool. We live near Taco Bell and I think he was trying to talk Cap into a taco he found in the dumpster.  Cap ain’t got an issue with Mexican foods nor our Mexican neighbors.  He just needs gluten-free taco shells.

Let’s not forget. We drank the Kool-Aid.  We went to college.  We majored in Liberal Arts.  English, history.  What the what.  It was the nineties.  And I show him this little guy, knowing KNOWING that he already KNOWS about it cause he reads all the geek collector boards and guess what.

canadian-jawa1

In the package, pristine, it’s worth $660,000.

He says.

Calmly.

“Oh, yeah. I had that as a kid.”

And I say. That’s our house.  That’s our entire mortgage and our student loans and 100k in change left over.

This is how I felt:

Which is how we both feel about our student loans.

Did I mention this freaking blog brings in no actual cash?  You’re welcome.

 

Dealing with an Elderly Hoarder

Flipping channels you might have seen bits and pieces of that show, Hoarders. You may have stood, transfixed, trying in some way to process how just no wait but how someone could get that way. The stuff.  Can’t they see the stuff?  Look at all that stuff!  I mean, dern.

If you don’t lose interest, you stick around to see the cleanup efforts of both professional counselors and the de-junking team and if a whole bunch of animals got really unlucky, the ASPCA loading up a bunch of animals who have been direly neglected.

Or you may stand there and flip channels and can’t bear to watch it at all cause it’s too close to home.  You’ve dealt with it personally.  As one person I knew with a hoarding parent said, “They don’t have a television show called ‘cancer’.  It’s an illness–not entertainment.”

I wrote a short how-to article on “How to Deal with an Elderly Hoarder.”  It was by far the most popular of my over 700 online how-to compositions. It generated a good bit of royalties.

Here’s what I wrote:

Step 1

Offer to take out the trash and offer to do some cleaning. You can also offer to pay for someone to come in. Specialists like Dr. Randy Frost, a board-certified OCD/Hoarding specialist, say an elderly hoarder generally will turn you down, but you may be able to make some headway once he realizes you are genuinely there to help.

Step 2

Ask permission before throwing out anything. Hoarders have an overdeveloped since of ownership and can become excessively attached to seemingly worthless things such as junk mail or decades-old catalogs. If you are to make a difference, you must not breach the elderly hoarder’s trust and remove items without permission.

Step 3

Work gently towards the goal of cleaning up. Most hoarders are aware that there is a problem with their lifestyle but are so overwhelmed they do not know where to begin. Work in small doses and ease them into parting with certain items.

Step 4

Call social services if you are far away or cannot get to the hoarder’s home as often as you’d like and report your elderly loved one as a “vulnerable adult.” Many states will not help an individual who can still drive or fix his own meals. However, you can ask for an interview to be held to assess the elderly hoarder’s needs.

Step 5

Find a local charity such as Meals on Wheels that can at least provide one clean meal a day for your elderly relative. A hoarder often will allow a stranger to assist her when she will not let family members do so.

Step 6

Consult a professional who is specifically trained to deal with hoarding if the situation is dangerous or threatening the elderly hoarder’s health. A professional may be able to help your loved one come to terms with his hoarding compulsion and talk him into changing his lifestyle.

The editor cut off step 7, which made me incredibly angry at the time:

Step 7

Realize that sometimes, no matter how much you want to help and no matter how many ways you offer to clean or incapacitated their judgment may seem, choices are being made.  And sometimes you can’t help someone who doesn’t want your help.  Be ready to accept that they are choosing to live this way and that you cannot–despite your best efforts–change their lives for the better.

So let’s talk about these steps.

First and foremost, the only one that wound up mattering in my life was number seven.  I grew up with a father–a mechanic–who kept everything and a mother whom we called “Supervac.”  She was the kind of person who would start cleaning the plate before you were finished with eating.

My mother went back to school at 43 and eventually became a family nurse practitioner.  Her first assignment moved her across the state leaving my dad behind to see on weekends and to sell the house.  It wasn’t working very well between them, and when I went to visit him one day with my three-year-old daughter in tow.

Always a stellar cook, dad kept a plastic grocery bag at the ready and would turn sideways and dump his trash in it as he worked.  Since it was a typical opaque Wal-Mart grocery bag, I couldn’t see in it from across the kitchen.  When I got closer, however, I saw that it was moving.  It was full of maggots.  The same in the trash closet.  The bathroom was full of black mold.  My daughter took one look around and said, “Mommy, do we have to stay here?”  This was my home through high school.  I couldn’t quite get my head around it.  Yes, I was used to junk around his shop, used to junk on his dresser drawer top, but not like what I was seeing here.  It was a tottering, dirty farmhouse, not a home.

When my mother finally split from my dad in ’03, he never recovered.  They were married forty years, three weeks, and eight days.  I was thirty-three when it was finalized. He has become increasingly belligerent over the years as he refused to treat his diabetes with exercise and diet and chose instead the slow way to commit suicide–candy bars and ice cream.  He ate an entire gallon of ice cream every two days–Blue Bell homemade vanilla.

Instead of settling upstate near my family, he decided to move into a property owned by his sister so he could visit with his very elderly mother–she was in her early 90’s at that time. The trailer in which he lived was down the road from my grandmother’s, down a winding side road that I could not see from the road. I would meet him at my granny’s, the once or twice I made the four-hour trek because I knew after how traumatizing it was to see my parent’s house it would be impossible to unsee it again.

My brother was in the vacinity, so he took over daddy’s “care”.  That means that Jack tried, but was limited by my dad’s obsessive psychology.  He would tell me about it.  “Susanne, I’ll clean off the porch so he can move and get in an out, but then as soon as I come back three weeks later it’s full again.”  The inside was just beyond horrible.  He had become so infirmed that he could no longer stand to do dishes and refused to get up to use the bathroom. He would relieve himself in hospital urine bottles.  I found out later from his doctor (who walked right through HEPA and told me what was really happening) is that oftentimes he wouldn’t make it that far and go in his chair.

I remember offering to help.  That was hard to do, seeing how I was broke, in school with two small children, and a job. He didn’t want any.  He refused my cousin’s.  He refused Jack.  He got in trouble for threatening everyone who said they were going to help him no matter what.  The last thing my father said to me was he was going to shoot me if I moved a single thing.

I called the state.  I might as well have been looking for a pastor on Tinder. The state said as long as he could drive or cook, there was nothing they could do.  There were no protections or interventions available. He could qualify for housekeeping, but there was a long waiting list.

When his neighbor found him, he had been dead about six hours.  He was still warm, covered in an electric blanket.  The neighbor tried to clean up a bit–she emptied some of the bottles, but there were at least ten when I got there a few days after the funeral. There were dead rats in the couch.  The dirty dishes were stacked up to the ceiling.

The cleaning services called me about a year after he’d been dead.  They were able to help now–he’d made it onto the list.

So when I say acceptance may be a part of your path when dealing with an elderly hoarder, I mean it. They may die that way.  Here’s what the National Study Group on Compulsive Disorganization wrote in their findings in 1993 to help professional organizers and psychologist understand what they were dealing with and to provide a classification for the disorder.

Level One:

All doors and hallways are accessible. Normal household pet activity with light evidence of rodents or pests. One to three pet accidents evident. Clutter is not excessive. Home has normal, healthy housekeeping and safe and healthy sanitation. No odors.

Level Two:

One exit is blocked and/or one major appliance or heating/cooling/ventilation device has not worked for at least six months. Some pet odor, pet waste puddles, light pet dander, three or more incidents of feces in litter boxes. Limited fish, bird or reptile care and light to medium evidence of common household rodents/insects. Clutter inhabits two or more rooms. Functions are unclear for living room and bedrooms. Slightly narrowing pathways throughout the home. Limited evidence of housekeeping, light unpleasant odors, overflowing garbage cans, light to medium mildew in kitchens and bathrooms, and moderately soiled food preparation surfaces.

Level Three:

Visible clutter outdoors, including items normally stored indoors, such as televisions and sofas. Two or more broken appliances, inappropriate/excessive use of electrical cords and light structural damage in one portion of the house has occurred in the past six months. Pets exceed local limits, excluding well-cared-for new kitten and puppy litters. Stagnant fish tanks, neglected reptile aquarium and/or bird droppings not cleaned. Audible rodent evidence, light flea infestation and a medium amount of spider webs. Indoor clutter leads to narrow hall and stair pathways, one bedroom or bathroom isn’t fully usable and small amount of obviously hazardous substances or spills. Excessive dust, dirty bed linens and no recent vacuuming or sweeping. Heavily soiled food preparation areas and full or odorous garbage cans. Dirty laundry exceeds three full hampers per bedroom. Strong unpleasant odors throughout the house.

Level Four:

Structural damage older than six months, mold and mildew, inappropriate use of appliances, damage to two or more sections of wall board, faulty weather protection, hazardous electrical wiring and odor or evidence of sewer backup. Pets exceed local limits by four animals, more than three instances of aged animal waste, pet dander on all furniture, pet damage in home, excessive webs and spiders, bats and raccoons in attic and flea infestation. Bedroom is unusable, hazardous materials are stored in the home, and flammable, packed materials are in the living area or attached garage. Rotting food on counters, one to 15 cans of aged canned goods with buckled surfaces, no clean dishes or utensils in kitchen. No bed covers, lice on bedding.

Level Five:

Obvious structural damage, broken walls, disconnected electrical service, no water service, no working sewer or septic system. Standing water indoors, fire hazards and hazardous materials exceed local ordinances. Pets are dangerous to occupant and guests. Rodents in sight, mosquito or other insect infestation and regional critters, such as squirrels, inside the home. Kitchen and bathroom unusable due to clutter. Occupant is living or sleeping outside the home. Human feces, rotting food and more than 15 aged canned goods with buckled surfaces inside the home.

 Dad was right up there with five, except he did have services.  He was taking his insulin needles and throwing them around the living room at random when he was done with them.  The place reeked of pet problems, as for years he owned one chihuahua after another without being able to see what they were doing due to diabetic retinopathy. I do not know how you can not count the fact he was keeping his own liquid waste. I have seen cases (on television, transfixed) where the hoarder in question kept their own diapers, refusing to throw them away.
Needless to say, this is a very sad tale.  I was very grateful to find Adult Children of Hoarders online, which helped in numerous ways.  The experts in the field who appear on the show have an extensive presence on ACOH to make their work more readily available.  I couldn’t watch the show Hoarders, for a year and a half.  When I would talk about it–I couldn’t for a long time–some well-meaning individual (usually at the knit shop or the dojo) would interject, “You mean, like that show on t.v.”
No.  I’d want to snap.  Not like the show.  With my father.  With the smells. With the inexplicable amount of Club crackers stacked beside the front door, with the take-out box of Chinese food that would crawl with roaches within seconds if you didn’t watch it. Not like the show.  Not removed, not with monetary intake from commercial breaks.  Now with the bottles of urine, the mystifying piece of tin foil on the inside of the toilet. That one I never did figure out.  With hoarding, you don’t get a break–not even a length of a commercial.  In my case and many others, your break is just not looking and just not taking the chance of seeing something you’re not going to be able to live with.
His death of congestive heart failure lifted a burden off of me like no other. My surrogate father, a Dutchman named Adam, said to me at the time, “I can tell by the sound of your voice that you’re more relieved than anything.”  How could I not be?  He was 350 pounds and scheduled to have his legs taken off because of the constant diabetic sores. How would we have lived with ourselves–and him–in that eventuality?
I remember him saying at the time that he was going to go live in the Veteran’s Home.  I was mortified, having thought nursing home and the piss-poor reputation of the VA.  Years later I toured the immaculate $269,000,000 facility on the beach in Biloxi where they monitored the rooms of the veterans.  It was too bad I didn’t tell him to go.  It is an amazing place, with a bowling alley, barber shop, thrift store, liquor store and bar… I wish I had told him to go.
Either way, there is help, but you have to know where to look for it. First, start with researching the vulnerable adult laws in your area.  If they were like my state’s laws, your relative might fall through the gaps.  There still might be housekeeping services available–ask.  Be persistent.
If you are far away and help is not forthcoming, then sign them up for Meals on Wheels or a community based food bank such as a local church, etc.  Sometimes having folks come in and see can get a few choice phone calls made to someone who can really help through the Department of Human Services.  It will assure you that they are not starving or eating nasty food continuously.
A call to the local fire marshal might help as well.  If you tell them the place is an extraordinary fire hazard, they may be able to help, particularly if they are in a densely packed residential zone.
However, if your relative–like my dad–chooses to live in this particular manner and eschews any help, you might have to look the other way for your own sanity. For myself, I had two small children to take care of and couldn’t take in a man who didn’t want to come and had a propensity for violence. Eventually, his own bad choices took care of all of his problems, and he died peacefully, thank goodness, in his sleep.
In writing, I always help that whatever I put out there proves to be useful to someone.  This subject, however, is riddled with my own helplessness.  There was nothing we could do and in the end, choices, no matter how bad or convoluted, ruled.

Palynology 101.

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A few years ago, a car thief in Finland–of all places–got quite a surprise.  Finnish police showed up at his doorstep to arrest him for stealing a car.  He claimed that he had gotten a ride—hitch hiked along.  This was not what the owner of the car said, and even though he didn’t know the identity of the thief the police knew they had their man—they had found a mosquito in the car that was particularly full. DNA testing of the mosquito’s last meal provided them with a DNA hit that lead to the thief who had assumed there were no witnesses.  There were.  They were just tiny and couldn’t speak.

It comes as no real surprise forensic science would be able to discern location and culprit from such minuscule evidence.  And although using a mosquito might seem terribly clever, forensic investigators are well-versed in using insects to identify time of death, place of death, and in some case, clarity on the way someone died.  Insects that are present within a crime scene—dead or alive—are referenced to as sarcophagi. This comes from their presence in the sarcophagus of kings and nobles in ancient Egypt. The mummification process was rather thorough, but it didn’t prevent bugs from helping themselves to the deceased.  Therefore they are a necessary and not too surprising body of evidence for forensic scientists.

We’re used to thinking of crime scenes in this purely physical manner—its seen all the time—ad nausea, some might say—on shows such as Bones and CSI: Insert City Name Here.  What you might not have considered about a cold case where neither the physical evidence nor the sarcophagi can help determine the location of the victim, the place where the crime occurred or how.

Enter the exceptionally small and highly-specialized world of the forensic palynology.  Yes, I know you’ve never heard of it.  Me either, until a few years ago I was called on to write an article on “What is Studied in Forensic Palynology.  I had completely forgotten about it until I was I was reading about a case in Boston written up in the Atlantic Monthly.

Three years ago, a two-year-old girl was discovered in a trash bag on Boston’s Dear Island with some decomposition and no identification.  Police were completely stumped.  They contacted the Center for Missing and Exploited Children and asked them to intervene.  Often times local police departments are stumped and don’t have the resources or finances to figure out what’s on their hand.  The Center for Missing and Exploited Children will offer funds and resources otherwise unavailable in the case of a missing child or an unexplained death. That’s when they called Andrew Laurence, the had palynologist of the U. S. Customs and Border Protection Service.

Andrew Laurence is one of a very few forensic palynologist working today. Palynologist work with one substance and one substance only:  pollen.  With 348,000 plant species in the world, that’s a lot of pollen.  And it’s a lot of pollen that’s completely localized.  A pine tree that grows in Arizona, for instance, will produce different pollen because of the soil consistency than will a pine tree in Mississippi. Certain species help palynologist eliminate the crime scene as a location for the victim’s residence.  For instance, if there is a victim covered with more than one type of cedar pollen, then that eliminates the entire Northeastern United States where only one type of cedar (Cedar-of-Lebanon) can grow and thrive.

With the case of the young girl, her clothing contained only Cedars of Lebanon pollen mixed with soot which means she was not only for the Boston area, but within an urban environment as well. Privet hedges—a strictly domestic plant—was also present in the pollen analysis, meaning she lived in a neighborhood with landscaping. It was apparent that Baby Doe was playing outside amongst the New England pines and oaks, and nowhere else.

Such a find is exceptionally satisfying to a palynologist, whom often feel terribly overworked by the system as many of them opt not to go into forensic study.  It came as a surprise to me that many of the palynologist in the world are geologist first.  They choose work in the geology field such as with oil exploration because the pay and the workload are considerably better. Those who do go into the field receive their training from people such as Laurence who stay in the field to make a true difference.  It is a broad discipline which cannot be duplicated by machines—although it goes to note our government is trying.

Part of the difficulty of specializing in palynology is that it is not limited to trees, their findings are not limited to trees and domestic bushes. Pollen, spores, dinoflagellates which are part of marine algae are studied as well.

So why pollen?  What makes it so reliable in cases that just can’t seem to be solved. Laurence speaks of a case in which a body had gone unidentified for forty years until he received the clothing samples and vacuumed up the pollen from the clothes and took a closer look. Eventually, the mother and her boyfriend were convicted of the crime.

See, pollen—unlike sarcophagi—do not deteriorate.  They can last millennia. Seven years ago when a working under the auspices of the University of Memphis discovered an additional chamber near Tut’s tomb (aka KV 63) that had not been disturbed for nearly 3,000 years full of burial preparations, he found that the pollen and flora left behind had not deteriorated.  When a coffin was being removed from the site, he called over a reporter and lifted a protective covering to reveal a pillow underneath.  “Smell.” He said.  The reporter said the presence of lavender was still there as he inhaled deeply.  Pollen is foolproof in this manner—it cannot be removed and it cannot be destroyed by time.  Dubbed KV 64, pollen analysis provided the Egyptologist with a better understanding of the origin of the products found.

Pollen becomes so incorporated in the soil that geologist are trained to identify it as a matter of course. Therefore if a body has been moved, an examination of dirt will lead to the origin of the crime.  A good example of this is a case of a man who was a suspect in a case without a body.  Police confiscated a pair of muddy boots, analyzed them, and placed the suspect near the Danube River.  Upon hearing this news, the suspect confessed to the crime, lead the police back to the body, and is now incarcerated.

Zoologist have called upon palynologist to identify attackers at crimes scenes such as illegal ivory harvesting and rhinos shot and killed for their horn. They can use either pollen left in muddy footsteps or analyze spores left behind on evidence.

Spores, like pollen, are extremely specific and unlike pollen are asexual and not quite a specific.  A male or female gingko tree will be identified easier than spores which come from ferns, mosses and fungi.  But they play their role, particularly in identifying migratory choices within ancient cultures.

This is essential in identifying how and where a piece arrived within a culture and where the trade originated.  Algae can be used to identify such objects as it produces cysts known as dinoflagellates which are not round or oblong like pollen spores.  They are whip-like, hence their name “flagellum” meaning whip and “dino” for whirling, both out of the Greek. Remember “red tides” and their dangerous consequences when present in seafood?  Those are caused by dinoflagellates. They can prove the location and narrow the suspects in a crime when present in a body that washes up on shore.

The government is trying to entice more geologist to specialize in forensic palynology. Leaders such as Laurence beg the government to put their money into better pay rather than in a computer-based pollen analysis that won’t work.  There’s just too many variables in their identification. But once they’re found—the free days of a perpetrator are numbered.

 

Are you Really Helping with that Ratings App?

The older I get, the more entrenched I become about fairness.  Yesterday, NPR posted this story about Yelp that will let you know why I don’t use them.  Click on the picture to go to the story.

NPR post

Also, please consider this:

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I remember being vastly disappointed on my honeymoon to New Orleans because I read Urban Spoon and all the places I went completely sucked.  After I experienced that, I did two things:  stopped relying on online reviews, and stopped using Urban Spoon and Yelp.  I ask.  I go on reddit.com/r/whatevercityI’mvisiting and ask or r/food and ask.  Reddit.  It’s always been a win for me.