pen rainbow

Friday, December 13, 2013

Friday—Life Is Complicated Day #15: The Finish Line

My daily journal as trustee of my dad's estate

At the peak

The Finish Line
It was my last day in the house, and I was determined to finish the job that my sister and I had started two weeks ago.

I spent some time in the garage cleaning off shelves and organizing his tool bench.  I owe it to my dad that I can tell the difference between a Phillips screwdriver and a flathead.  Garage aficionados will appreciate the mini-fridge stocked full of pop and my dad's favorite brew.  The garage was where I sought his approval.  He taught us that girls can do anything that boys can do, including the proper use of tools and a willingness to get your hands dirty.

At the end of the day, I had a couple of visitors.  Two of my dad's dirt bike buddies stopped by to discuss the motorcycles.  One of them was a local legend on the dirt bike circuit and owned a shop in Vegas.  Like all of my dad's other friends, he was a class act, and my dad would have wanted his bikes to go to him.

After he left, the next door neighbor stopped by to talk about the car.  He had another neighbor with him who was interested in ramps and whatever was left in the workshop.  I was running short on time and told them that we'd meet again when I was back in town after the holidays.  My dad had good neighbors, as well as good friends.

I loaded the car and did a final check of each room.  It seemed like it had been a year since I walked through the front door of this house with my sister for the first time.  We had accomplished a lot in two weeks.  We had reframed the past and redefined the bond we had as a family.  We were the strong, smart and capable daughters he'd always thought we were.

And, we'll always have one special memory of the time when the three of us dissolved into side-splitting laughter over a perfect storm of good intentions and human blunder.  That is the way that he would have wanted it to end with us.

No fuss, no muss.  Only laughter and great memories.

Thanks for the happy ending, Dad.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Thursday—Life Is Complicated Day #14: Countdown

My daily journal as trustee of my dad's estate

A clean carpet
8 Hours
Another day at the house, and for the first time since my dad died, I got a full night's sleep.  What a difference!  The untethered anxiety that had been waking me up at 3 a.m. every morning had been sorted and compartmentalized.

•  My mom's ingratitude
•  The self-absorbed stepdaughter
•  The burden of legal responsibilities
•  A timeline that was still undetermined
•  The selling of big-ticket items
•  The overwhelming sense that I was guessing my way through every day
•  Forgetting dance steps
•  My distant reality in California

Critical Path
I had been following a critical path of decisions and actions since Day One.  Certain things had to be done before other equally-as-important things could follow.  The trick was to figure out what those things actually were.  It wasn't so much fear as it was a tidal wave of caution that was keeping me up at night.

My first obligation was to my dad and what he wanted.  I tried not to get bogged down by the small stuff.  My dad made it abundantly clear that when he died, his life story was over.  No memorial, no obit, no anything.  Just a peaceful exit.  I wrote an obit because other people seemed to need it, and he wouldn't have cared, as long as it wasn't over the top.  What he did not want, and he was adamant, was a production after he died.  Above all, my dad was pragmatic and not overly sentimental.

The Doggie Who Wouldn't Go Outside
Today was about digging in.  I started downstairs and found a bag of pictures and a heart-shaped necklace stashed in the piano bench.  They would go to my dad's deceased wife's daughter who lives in Alaska.  She texted me and wanted the piano, too...along with her mom's china cabinet.  No problemo, I'll hire a mover to deliver them to her mother-in-law who lives a few blocks away.  That will be the end of that.

I spent the rest of the morning attacking the carpets.  Apparently, the blind, diabetic dog had never mastered the art of house training, and the carpets were proof.  I want to thank my dad's housekeeper, whoever she was, for buying a half dozen bottles of enzyme carpet spray and stain remover.  Bless the woman for she gaveth me a way to destinkify the carpets.  I'm quoting from the Housecleaning Bible, Heloise 4:09.

I finished cleaning out the fridge and restocked it with cans of Ginger Ale and Bud Light from the garage.

Thanks, Dad.  Those will be good when the weather warms up, and I'm in the back yard trimming the roses.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Wednesday—Life Is Complicated Day #13: Home Sweet Home

My daily journal as trustee of my dad's estate

The first big pick-up

Home Sweet Home
It's an odd feeling to wake up and not recognize where you are.

I opened my eyes and tried to focus.  This wasn't my bedroom...Was I in Boulder City?  Nope.  The garden window that looks out onto the purple lantanas at my grandmother's condo was missing.  The Mission-style footboard and the yellow wool blanket at the end of my bed looked vaguely familiar.

I was in a house that was redefining itself.  My dad's cozy blue bathrobe was dangling from the inversion table that was set up in the guest room.  A pair of brand new slippers identical to the ones he always wore were next to the bed.  He had a habit of purchasing two of everything, and we found the slippers in the spare bedroom with the tags still on them.

The stuffed baby camel from my grandmother's condo sat at the end of my bed.  How it managed to make it from the condo in BC to her assisted living facility, then into a box on a shelf in my dad's bedroom closet and back to me was remarkable.  The little camel greeted me for five summers while I lived with my grandma and worked at the Boulder City pool. The room felt like my old bedroom, a mashup of hand-me-down furniture and a touch of my grandmother's style.  Comfortable.

I eased into my dad's bathrobe and carefully maneuvered down the steep staircase toward a pot of the most gawd-awful coffee you've ever had in your life.  Humongous blue can, unknown label, mystery fibers mixed in with the grounds...tastes slightly like chicory.  The night before, I'd managed to clean and set up a brand new Cuisinart grinder /coffee maker, so the coffee was a little better by virtue of the new machine.  I could see why my dad hadn't ever used the machine.  It would have been a little too gadgety for him.  Too many buttons, too many controls, too many things to set.

Before my second cup, I was cleaning out the bottom of the hutch and packing dishes for Goodwill.  It was a good day to dig deep and hit all of the places Heidi and I had missed the week before.  The house and I were becoming better acquainted.

By the end of the day, I had a new stack of donations, and the carpets had all been pretreated.  I'd retrieved three pendulum clocks from upstairs and set them up around the house.  One was chiming on the hour; one had been brought over from my grandma's condo to her assisted living facility; and, one was a retirement gift from my dad's company.

The weather warmed up in the afternoon, and I spent a couple of hours in the backyard sweeping off the patio and sidewalk.  I rearranged pots and picked the pomegranates from the lower branches.  I left the poms on the top branches for the birds and raked the green grass.

I tackled the kitchen and got rid of pantry items that expired last decade.  In the upstairs guest bathroom, I found a stash of new toothbrushes and dental floss from my dad's dental appointments.  I scrubbed baseboards, rearranged artwork throughout the house, and laundered the towels with fabric softener that I brought out from BC.  It was the least I could do for the house.    

By the time I was finished, there were eight new Hefty bags of trash on the curb.  As tired as I was from the first week, I was hitting my stride now and really moving the dial forward.  I was starting to feel like myself again.

Tomorrow would bring more discoveries about my dad's life and more happy endings.

Thanks for giving us a great house, Dad.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Tuesday—Life Is Complicated Day #12: My Dad's Obit

My daily journal as trustee of my dad's estate


Today, I wrote my dad's obit for the Review-Journal in Las Vegas.  It will appear on Saturday, December 21, 2013.  The original version included the quote from Arthur C. Clarke, one of his favorite Sci-Fi authors.  The RJ was having fits about the quote, so I left it out.  But, my dad loved to read, so I'm running the original here in my blog.

Click HERE to see the obit in the RJ

February 19, 1935 - November 26, 2013

“In my life I have found two things of priceless worth—learning and loving. Nothing else—not fame, not power, not achievement for its own sake—can possibly have the same lasting value. For when your life is over, if you can say, ‘I have learned,’ and ‘I have loved,’ you will also be able to say, ‘I have been happy.’”
~ Arthur C. Clarke, Rama II

Reynold Uther Jones of Las Vegas passed away peacefully in his sleep at the age of 78. He is survived by his daughters, Heidi Jones Harris of Gainesville, Florida, and Troi Jones Nelson of Walnut Creek, California; sons-in-law Victor Harris and Steve Nelson; and eight grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his daughter, Brooke Edin Jones, and his young son, Mason Uther Jones; as well as his parents, Pearle Rose Olinghouse and Uther Clark Jones; and his wife, Margaret Jones.
He will be remembered fondly by his step-daughter, Lisa Horstmann, her husband, Pete, and their family. His loyalty, tenacity, and adventurous spirit will be greatly missed by friends who shared his love of dirt bike racing, RV camping, and fishing.
At his request, no services will be held.  Rey loved the outdoors and his family requests that donations be made to the National Parks Foundation in his memory.  

He will be missed.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Monday—Life Is Complicated Day #11: Phone Calls

My daily journal as trustee of my dad's estate

It's all in the trust

Paper Rules
Today was Phone Day #1.  I'd been dreading it for a week mainly because I did not know exactly where to start.  Some had to be called now and some later, but it was vitally important that I make these calls in the right order.  Like a game of Pickup Sticks, one wrong move could bring the whole thing down in a quagmire of tangled communications.  But, it had to be done, and today was the day to start.

Veteran's Administration
I started with what was in front of me that I clearly understood.  My sister and I are beneficiaries on my dad's VA insurance.  I called the number on the form that he'd given me and got a very helpful guy with a thick Jersey accent.  They would send me the death claim form, I'd fill it out, and return it.  Okay, pretty straight forward.  One down, four more immediately important calls to go.  Next stop, the cards in his wallet.

Social Security  
Another easy one.  Social Security is perhaps Numero Uno on the list of agencies that need to know when somebody dies.  I called them, and they said that they'd contact Medicare.  Really?!  A gov agency that will contact another gov agency...for me?!  What a relief.  Thank you, thank you.

I called all of the physicians' cards in his wallet.  Might as well let them know that he DIED, and thanks for nothing, by the way.

Homeowner's Insurance & Auto Insurance
We found these policies in the safe deposit box.  Thank gawd for that because he had two file drawers and a dozen binders full of old financial records at the house.  As it turned out, the auto policies and the homeowner's were with the same agency, so I was able to handle both issues with one phone call.

For the first time, I had to defend myself against a condescending insurance agent who tried to tell me that the cars were outside of the trust, and that they had to go through probate.  He also felt the need to explain probate to me.  I cut him off when he began to tell me that probate was a foregone conclusion.  Shut the Hell up.

This is where the powerpoint presentation and the notes that we took when we met with the trust attorney suddenly came into play.  With the trust documents in front of me, I read from the Assignment of Assets designating all of the personal property and vehicles of all kinds as part of the trust.  So, zip it, Barney, and tell me what you need in order to update his file.

He wanted a copy of the Affidavit of Successor Trustee designating me as the new trustee, as well as the Assignment of Assets document.  He wanted them faxed, not scanned and sent by email, but good old-fashioned, old-timey fax, which meant that I had to find someplace in town that had a fax machine and get down there before they closed.

It was a preview of things to come.   This would become my daily routine.  I had to be clear-headed and have all of the critical information in front of me.  I also needed a baseline understanding of how certain things work.  Medicare and Medicare prescription plans, for example, are separate entities.  One does not talk to the other.  Then, there is supplemental health coverage outside of Medicare, and they are entirely separate, as well.  

I am learning as I go for the next 6 to 9 months.  

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Sunday—Life Is Complicated Day #10: My Day Off

My daily journal as trustee of my dad's estate

On Tropicana going over The Strip on the way to my dad's house

My Day Off
At the end of last week, it was obvious that there was more to do, and I needed to extend my stay for another week.  I was still waiting on the death certificates, which take 7 to 10 business days to arrive, and not much happens on the business end of a trust without death certificates.

I also needed to pick up my dad's ashes from the nice folks at Bunkers.  The initial shock of his unexpected death was starting to dissipate and a new, more purposed reality was settling in.  At least, it didn't feel like a half-dream anymore.  I'd been on auto-pilot for a week straight, and I was beginning to wonder when I would feel optimistic again.

So, I gave myself a day off back at the condo in Boulder City.

I slept in and drank coffee all morning.  I sorted through papers when I felt like it.  I strolled around in my little aromatic garden and let the rosemary and cedar branches brush against my jeans.  I started a new Harry Bosch novel on my Kindle.  I ate lunch and did some blogging.  I thought about driving out to Searchlight and decided that it was too cold to get out of the car.  I did laundry and zapped a  Lean Cuisine for supper.  I was in bed by 8:15.

I would be heading out to the house in Vegas on Tuesday to put things out for the donation truck on Wednesday morning.  Beyond that, who knows.  The course of each day was determined by the accomplishments of the preceding day, so I wasn't sure if I'd be spending the rest of the week in Vegas, or not.

I decided against attending a family event in Searchlight on Monday in lieu of making phone calls.  Like it or not, I had to start the process of notifying Social Security, Medicare, his doctors, and the VA.  Plus, I had to confirm his homeowner's and auto insurance.  First things first.  Time to switch into secretarial mode.  Dealing with pointy-headed bureaucrats takes mental alertness, and although I was bracing for a crap storm the next day, I was trying not to think about it too much.

Thanks to my sister who diligently organized 3 laundry baskets of files into individual stacks of important papers, I could face Monday somewhat prepared.

Thanks, Heidikins

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Saturday—Life Is Complicated Day #9: What Worked

My daily journal as trustee of my dad's estate

Fishing in Alaska

And Then There Was One
I dropped my sister off at the airport today, and for the first time since my dad died, I felt alone.  The Army of Two who marched into unfamiliar terrain and faced down unidentified foes is down to an army of one.

Over the past week, the strength of who we are as individuals and our bond as sisters was tested over and over again.  Her clarity and humor provided a life raft for me on days when I felt as though I were walking on the bottom of the ocean.

She kept herself open to every detail and to every exchange of information as we processed through each day.  We worked together and independently at the same time, putting our trust in each other ahead of everything else.  Fueled by mutual respect, we skillfully navigated the very tricky landscape of who gets what.  Thankfully, that was a small piece of a much bigger picture.  We were a good team, and my dad would have been proud of us.

Why It Worked
1.  We Like Each Other
We got along before my dad died, and we are simpatico sisters.  

2.  Just Two
I thought a lot about how lucky we were that there weren't more siblings to complicate matters.  We were Batman and Batman, both working for the common good.

3.  Unselfish
I can't think of a single moment when we weren't sharing every aspect of this weird experience.  We shared information, thoughts, feelings, things, meals, and decisions.

4.  Balance
Miraculously, we were able to balance our time so that we could take care of ourselves.  We made time for her morning walks and my blogging.  We packed lunches and ate outside on my dad's lovely garden patio.  We watched our favorite shows on TV.  We tried to get enough sleep.

5.  Workhorses
My sister and I have the same habit of working past our limit.  We are task oriented.  It did not matter that we had to walk up and down a steep flight of stairs 25 times a day.  If there were a closet or a drawer that hadn't been cleaned out, we were on it.  When my dad's friend announced at 8 o'clock at night that he'd be over in 10 minutes to pick up a load of stuff, we went into overdrive making boxes and packing fragile glass knick-knacks.  If I had to crawl around on my hands and knees to retrieve pots and pans from the far reaches of the kitchen cupboards, it got done.  If it meant spending 2 hours in a filthy, greasy shed full of motorcycle parts looking for Christmas ornaments, Heidi did it.

6.  Mutual Respect for My Dad
No one knew him better than we did, and he knew it.  We shared the same sense of humor, and our basic principles were alike.  Our lives were inextricably blended with his.  We knew his secrets, and he pretty much knew that we were perfect daughters...LOL  :)  He would have liked that joke.  We were equally at ease with him as we are with each other.  The job ahead of us was clear, and there was never any disagreement over what he would have wanted.

7.  Supportive Spouses & Kids
Our spouses rallied and called in every night to check on us.  More importantly, they did not interfere.  They listened patiently and did not try to tell us what to do.  Thanks, Guys.  And, our adult kids were kind enough to reach beyond their daily trevails and offer words of condolence.  Thanks, Kids.

8.  We Each Have A Backbone
We both understand the difference between being assertive and being aggressive.  Neither one of us is afraid to be assertive when the situation calls for it.

9.  Maturity
Post-menopausal power, baby!  I don't know where it comes from, but when women are no longer being ruled by their ovaries, the fog clears.  The clarity and confidence of youth emerge once again, and rational thought returns.  The carefree girls we once were evolve into women of substance, and insecurities seem to evaporate.  Being over 50 provided a critical source of stability from which we drew strength and guidance every day.

10.  We Have Enough Stuff
It was never about his stuff, although sorting through his belongings kind of forces the issue.  Every person who knew my dad and genuinely cared about him backed away from his stuff.  His friends refused to take any memento that we offered because he wasn't about that.  A relationship with our dad was based on living life to the fullest and not on collecting things.  My dad streamlined his life before he died so that the bulk of what he left behind was a rich collection of memories for his friends and family.  His step-relatives were very interested in his stuff, and I imagine that's why he placed everything under the protection of a family trust.  No will, no probate, no interfamily drama.

Way to go, Dad!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Friday—Life Is Complicated Day #8: Gratitude

My daily journal as trustee of my dad's estate

Leaves on my sidewalk in Walnut Creek

Today, we gave away canned food and a vehicle.  Funny thing...the guys who got the canned food were a lot more appreciative than the two people who got the truck.

Regardless, it was a gesture to pay off a debt of conscience owed by my dad.  As trustee of his estate, it is my job to pay his debts of all kinds.

Now, the slate is clean.  Judging by the way that he put his affairs in order and made everything right at the end of his life, he would have approved.  This was the kind of debt that could not be rectified while he was alive.  Perhaps now, a broken heart can mend.

RIP Dad.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Thursday—Life Is Complicated Day #7: Keep, Give, Throw Away

My daily journal as trustee of my dad's estate

Clothes, bags & boxes


"I'd like to schedule a pickup for next Tuesday."

"Okay, what items do you have?"

"Right now, I have...

Ten 33-gallon garbage bags of clothes & shoes;
2 bags of bed linens & comforters;
4 large duffle bags of sports gear;
2 small duffle bags of knick-knacks;
5 used suitcases;
4 boxes of miscellaneous household items;
4 lamps;
A clock;
A box of old record albums;
A shower assist chair;
A mirror;
5 picture frames;
A flip-up Polaroid land camera;
A box of Russian military hats;
A scary Jesus poster;
And a box of Christmas decorations."

Give Away
Heidi and I spent the day staging items to keep, give away, and throw away.  We were women on a mission.  On Day 2, we set up a yahoo mail account so that we could keep trust business separate from our individual correspondence.  We were looking for a list of items requested by my dad's deceased wife's daughter.  Not a step anything anymore, she had nevertheless shared a history with my dad.  We were more than happy to find the things that would close this chapter for her...and for us.

Heidi braved the confines of the back yard shed to search for a box of Christmas ornaments.  I sifted through rows of fragile glass figurines looking for her mother's Hummel.  I found one that was similar to a Hummel, but really a knock-off.  I wrapped it in one of my dad's old teeshirts and placed it into one of the new UPS boxes that we had purchased in BC.  After spending two hours that morning in the dust-filled shed, Heidi found the Christmas ornaments in a closet in the house.

A close friend of my dad's stopped by that night and offered to haul everything over to the house of the mother-in-law of my dad's deceased wife's daughter.  We hauled out several boxes of Christmas decorations, along with two marble-top tables that she had requested.  We scoured the house and packed up anything that looked like it may have belonged to my dad's wife.  Six boxes and two end tables later, we were closing the lid on things from someone else's past.  

Things from our past...

3 small Post-Modern tables that once belonged to my grandmother;
A personalized jacket from a Best In The Desert race that my dad won;
My dad's blue terrycloth bathrobe and a new pair of slippers with the tags still on them (it was cold in the mornings);
A heavy lead crystal bowl that belonged to my grandmother;
2 small porcelain candy dishes that belonged to my grandmother;
A wooden nut dish that belonged to my grandmother;
And, a floppy camel that used to sit on the guest room bed at my grandmother's condo.

Throw Away
I hauled 7 bags of garbage out to the curb for the next morning's pickup.

Bed linens
Empty frozen dinner boxes
Empty snack-size chip bags
An empty bottle of French Chardonnay
An empty canister of anti-bacterial counter wipes
Decrepit kitchen plastics
Lime-encrusted aluminum pots and pans misshapen from years of use
Expired stuff from the fridge
Old hiking maps where my dad liked to walk his dog
Alka Seltzer, Bandaids from 1997 & other assorted items from under his sink
A flattened chair cushion (My dad bought two of everything, and I found a new replacement in the garage)
Oily, greasy rags from the garage

We had completed the first pass through the house, and we were on overload trying to maintain our focus.  With brutal clarity, we sorted through objects that now had new meaning.  Without him in the equation, it was a matter of assessment and memory as we assigned new values to his possessions.

The good news is that, for the most part, he did not collect junk.  He held onto old things if they still worked.  Everything that was his was functional and had a purpose.  Even the girly calendar hanging in the garage helped him keep track of the days.

Thanks, Dad, for keeping a neat house.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Wednesday—Life is Complicated Day #6: Climbing Mountains

My daily journal as trustee of my dad's family trust

A gorgeous December sunset in Boulder City, Nevada

In Our Words

"We are climbing mountains every day.  Not the same mountain, it's a new mountain every day."  ~Heidi

"She can take that gun and shove it."  ~Heidi

"...And then pull the trigger!"  ~Troi


Four days of driving back and forth between Boulder City and my dad's house off of Charleston were enough to convince us to spend our last two nights at the house.  We were both flying out on Saturday, and we running out of time.  We still had to clean out every cupboard, every closet, and every drawer.  The fridge was still stocked full of food from two days before Thanksgiving.  Rusty's insulin supplies were still sitting on the kitchen counter.  We were stepping into my dad's life and taking over from where he left it.

We spent the morning at the condo in BC plowing through the stacks of papers, folders, and binders that we had taken out of the house.  I woke up every morning faced with the enormous burden of responsibilities associated with the trust.  My mind was racing with details.  It was taking all of my organizational skills and experience to prioritize our daily tasks. What needed to be done first?   On the one hand, my dad had been dead for just over a week, and I hadn't begun to make phone calls.  On the other hand, there was the physical labor of getting the house in order.  And, only three more days to get it all done.

We were climbing mountains every day.

The First Supper

We finally got out of BC around 2 p.m.  The route that was most familiar to me was I-515 to Tropicana, then over the Strip.  It was the same route I used to take when I drove out to see my grandma Pearle at the assisted living facility in Vegas, which was close to my dad's house.  The lights and the grandeur of the Strip were oddly comforting.  It was like Disney World, Vegas-style, and it was nice to see people enjoying themselves.

We got to the house and worked like maniacs until 8 o'clock when we finally ran out of steam and decided to raid my dad's fridge.  Mmm, frozen enchiladas and a turkey dinner!  And, a nice bottle of Chardonnay from my wine cooler in BC.

Where would we sleep?

We were each going to take a guest room, but the mattress on one of the beds was a concrete slab, apparently.  It felt like it, anyway.  It was a hard as the dining room table.  My dad had broken his pelvis four years ago in a dirt biking accident, and I think that the guest bed was where he slept when his back bothered him.  I had no interest in sleeping in the master bedroom.  We had already stripped his bed and flipped the mattress, which was still in good shape.  The big Jacuzzi tub and the double vanity were calling to Heidi, so she found some clean floral linens and made up the bed.

The practicality of spending the night there forced us to get over any remaining discomfort associated with his room.  We had to find someplace comfortable to sleep.

I brought out two feather pillows and clean pillowcases from BC, and they matched the linens beautifully.  We untangled the cables and moved the clunky TV onto the floor next to the closet.  The desk had been cleared off earlier that day, and Heidi had bagged up all of my dad's clothes for donation.  The room had undergone a transformation during the afternoon from his bedroom to a lovely, uncluttered master suite.

In a closet stuffed with old, outdated grungy sheets and comforters, I found a new unopened twin-size Waverly sheet set!  I'm pretty sure that my fairy godmother left it.  Floral, of course, and a comforter to match.  I had been doing laundry and working in the guest rooms all day, so the two guest bedrooms got a makeover, as well.

Clean, refreshed and updated, the house was becoming ours.

Our House

We went to bed around Midnight exhausted, but gratified.  It felt like we had conquered another mountain that day.  We were planning one day at a time, based on what we were able to accomplish the day before.  We realized that we needed another whole day and night to finish up the house.  So, we decided to stay until Friday when my mom could come out and pick up the extra food.

Thanks for not buying a Thanksgiving turkey, Dad!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Tuesday—Life Is Complicated Day #5: TCB

Navigating Las Vegas...taking care of the business of dying

Dove statue at Memory Gardens

Las Vegas Coroner's Office  
First stop, the Las Vegas coroner's office on Pinto Lane to pick up my dad's personal belongings.  $38 in cash, his wallet, 2 credit cards, a debit card, and his keys.

Bunkers Mortuary
Next stop, Bunkers Mortuary at the corner of Washington and Las Vegas Boulevard South.  This is old-timey Las Vegas.  We drove past the old Union Plaza depot, past Fremont Street, and past the neighborhood where I learned to ride my first 2-wheeler bike.  We were just down the street from the elementary school where I attended Kindergarten and First Grade.  We arrived at the mortuary once owned by "Miss Nancy" Merle Bunker, the star of The Cinderella Show in Las Vegas.

We met with our arrangement director, Nick, who gave me a casket flag for my dad because he served in the National Guard for a year, and then in the Air Force for four more.  Heidi and I signed more paperwork and paid $83 out-of-pocket to cover state mortuary fees.  My dad's pre-need cremation package came to a grand total of $1,328.  If we had walked in that day to make arrangements for the same package that my dad had prepaid in 2009, it would have been $2,000—and gone up from there.

Memory Gardens
Next stop, Memory Gardens Cemetery off of Craig Road to see if my dad had purchased a cremation niche next to his wife.  The rolling lawns were yellow and neglected, but the cemetery attendants, Inez and Betty, took care of us.  They confirmed that my dad had NOT purchased a cremation niche, but they offered to sell us one for $12,000.

Seriously?  Twelve grand to keep a box of ashes in something that looks like a high school gym locker?!  It's hard to believe that my dad paid that much for his wife, but grief warps good judgment, and he probably gave in to her kids.  The absurdity of it all made us giddy on the walk back to the car.  We left for the bank just as a bitterly cold wind picked up from the West and dark gray clouds began to stack up over Red Rock.

Wells Fargo Bank
Our final stop was at Wells Fargo Bank off of Charleston.  This would be the trickiest errand of the day and my first official duty as successor trustee.  We needed to see the contents of the safe deposit box that I shared with my dad.  It contained all of his most important personal papers, and as successor trustee, it was now my job to gain an accurate and precise understanding of his estate.

As I said in the previous post, my dad was a genius at dying.  Four years ago when he set up the family trust, he brought me into the bank and went over the contents of the safe deposit box with me.  He added my name to the box and gave me a key.  Anyone who visits a safe deposit box has to sign a ledger, so my signature was on the box from that visit in 2009.  This allowed Heidi and me to open the box, go over everything together, and remove the contents.

Four years ago, I was instructed to contact a bank manager regarding the safe deposit box.  The reality is that even with an affidavit of successor trustee from our trust attorney and a receipt from the coroner's office for my dad's personal effects, I still needed an official death certificate to access his account.  It takes 7 to 10 days to get certified death certificates from the mortuary, and the bank froze the checking account immediately after we removed the contents of the safe deposit box.  In hindsight, I would have cleaned out the safe deposit box first, then taken a couple of days to download statements and study the account before notifying the bank.  

Without his papers, I would have had no idea where the titles were to his cars; how much he owed on his house; what insurance policies he had; what the passwords were to his online accounts, or how he managed his money.  With his papers, I could begin the process of notifying his creditors and move ahead with the execution of the trust.  The details are staggering, and the first thing that needs to be done is to sort out what is immediate and what isn't.  Everything was riding on access to his important papers, and he was wise enough to put them into safe keeping, then teach me what to do.  

We know a whole lot more today than we did yesterday.  Talk about a steep learning curve.

Thanks for insisting that I go to the bank with you four years ago, Dad.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Monday—Life Is Complicated Day #4: Rusty

My daily journal as trustee of my dad's estate

The wall at the trust attorney's office

"When all the world is a hopeless jumble,
And the raindrops tumble all around,
Heaven opens up a magic lane.

When all the clouds darken up the skyway,
There's a rainbow highway to be found
Leading from your window pane
To a place behind the sun
Just a step beyond the rain."

Somewhere Over The Rainbow ~ Music by Harold Arien_Lyrics by EY Harburg

My dad's little dog, Rusty, crossed the Rainbow Bridge today.  He was a sick little dog, and he was suffering.  It was time to let him go.  My dad had been saying for the past couple of weeks that it was time to put him down.  But, it is a heartbreaking task to take a beloved pet in for euthanasia, and he'd been putting it off.

He had friends who stepped up and took care of this high maintenance dog when he no longer could.  They were there before we arrived, and they simply got the job done for a friend in need...and for a couple of complete strangers who were reeling from their own loss.

As much as I've been the strong daughter that he wanted me to be, their act of selflessness blows me away.  When people say that they want to help, it's really an expression of sympathy.  But, when someone's life stops abruptly and unexpectedly, the momentum of that person's every day existence continues for a while, like swirling glitter in a glass of water.  Animals are left behind.

I always knew that he had great friends.  I guess, I've never really seen friends who could stay out of the way and at the same time know exactly what to do to help.  It's a difficult line to walk.  And, how do we show our gratitude?  All that I can do is to emulate their example and be there for someone else when it's my turn to step up.  ...And, pay Rusty's vet bill.

My dad had an IQ of 154, which put him at the top of the highly gifted category.  But, from what my sister and I have seen over the past few days, he was a genius at dying.  More about that later...

Thanks for having such an amazing group of friends, Dad

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Sunday—Life Is Complicated Day #3: Neverland

My daily journal as trustee of my dad's estate

My dad's scotchy-scotch-scotch

In Our Words
"She tried to pull the weepy woman thing, and that didn't land with me."  ~Me

"We're not criers."  ~My sister

"If they want to do a memorial, let them.  It makes no difference to the dead person, and everybody wins."  ~My sister

House Day
It was house day on Sunday.  The locksmith showed up at 1 p.m., and we had 8 locks rekeyed.  It was reassuring to know that whoever else had a key to my dad's house could no longer get in.  Now, if we can figure out how to operate the damn alarm, we'll be okay.  New keys won't stop bad guys, but an active alarm system will.  

It was a hands-on day.  We worked hard and started in the areas that held the most interest for each of us.  Heidi dove into the backyard shed, and I tackled the downstairs rooms of the house.  We began the process of staging. It's pretty much the same as moving, except for the odd sensation of knowing that nothing in the house belonged to us.  And, why again were we spending the day in my dad's house invading his privacy?  Like it or not, we had crossed the threshold into Neverland.

We moved through the house like army ants.  Room by room, drawer by drawer, closet by closet, we sorted through the things that brought richness, depth, and quality to his life.  I dug through the pockets of his jeans that were casually laid over the footboard of the bed in his spare room.  I folded the riding shirt that he had worn on his last mountain bike ride.  I cleaned out the upstairs medicine cabinet and gathered together all of his dog's insulin supplies, the doggie eye drops, the prescription dog food, the well chewed doggie toys, the scruffy dog bedding, and the meticulous notes that my dad kept on his dog's daily care.  My dad's mini-schnauzer, Rusty, meant everything in the world to him.

Around 4 p.m., we loaded the back of the shiny, black Escape with 3 more laundry baskets of financial records and a round maple table with a spinny top that once belonged to his mother, Pearle.

And, 3 unopened bottles of single malt scotch.  And, a mystery bottle of Portuguese liquor.

We rolled up to the condo quiet and tired, but we quickly revived when we remembered that Heidi had a case of soda water upstairs, and we had 3 bottles of decent Christmas scotch in the car.  20 minutes later, I was able to truly relax for the first time since I got the news that my dad was gone.

Here's to you, Dad

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Saturday—Life Is Complicated Day #2: The Longest Day

A daily journal as trustee of my dad's estate

My Dad's Most Beloved Toys

The Longest Day
Today we walked into the house where my dad lived and died.  A big day.  Very strange, but mechanical.

Would the house alarm trip?
Was my passcode information correct and up-to-date?
How would the house look after the police and the coroner had been there?
How did they leave the bedroom where my dad died?
What dog mess would we have to clean up?
Would anything be missing?
Who would come to our door that day?

It went better than we imagined because we were both prepared for the worst.  My sister tripped the alarm on the back door, and my passcode info didn't work.  I had the correct info, but couldn't disarm the alarm, so the alarm company finally called, and we sorted it out.  The alarm screamed at us for 10 minutes straight.

His room...I can only describe it as peaceful.  My dad was an extremely organized guy, but he had mellowed as he grew older, and the house had an orderly, but relaxed feel.  We felt oddly comfortable because everything was so familiar, but a little like we shouldn't be in his room snooping.  As we plowed through his most important papers, it was comforting to know that we were doing what he wanted us to do.  It was our responsibility to be there.

We got a good start in the morning, but lost the rest of the day and left after dark to make time for one of his best friends who had been checking on the house for us.  He needed to talk, share his grief, and reminisce.  He met my dad through mutual friends who were part of their dirt bike racing club.  My dad taught him to ride a dirt bike through the desert.  We laughed and shared sparks of recognition in his best friend that reminded us so much of our dad.  And, he seemed relieved and comforted to see aspects of my dad's personality in us.

A concerned next door neighbor showed up, as well.  We talked to him at the front door and gathered information about my dad's last day.  He was probably the last person to see my dad alive.  My mellowed-out dad got along with his 30-something year old, gearhead neighbors.  He would have seen himself in them as a young Hell-raiser who worked hard and played hard.  I can see why they got along.  The brothers will miss the ease of living next door to my dad.

At the end of the day, my sister and I are still trying to grock the fact that my dad had such an amazing group of friends.  He wasn't a social butterfly, but he was charismatic, and it was his genuine fearlessness, loyalty, and joie de vie that made him such an interesting person.

He truly had great friends.  What a good way to end up.

Good job, Dad

Friday, November 29, 2013

Friday—Life Is Complicated Day #1: Getting There

A daily journal as trustee of my dad's estate

My dad holding his first grandchild

Getting There
Yesterday, I was roasting a turkey, making stuffing, and setting a Thanksgiving table.  Today, I am on a plane headed for my dad's house in Las Vegas to settle his affairs.  My sister, the only other next of kin, is flying in to meet me at the airport, and we will have tonight to collect our thoughts, make plans for the week, and relax.  It will be the only day for the next week that we will have that opportunity.

Every day will be a challenge, and I will post pix of our progress.  Each day, the pieces of his life will be methodically uncovered, analyzed, categorized, and processed.  Each day, we will plow through a mountain of physical and emotional work in a Herculean effort to organize what he left behind.

My dad did the right thing.  For a man who made mistakes and never looked back to apologize or make amends, he managed to make it all right in the end.  I have to say, the old man really came through.  And, what gifts he gave us...First, he secured a "pre-need" contract with a local funeral home.  That's what mortuaries call pre-planning for funeral expenses, cremation, and/or burial.  My dad paid for a bereavement package ahead of time, and even though I had expressed my gratitude to him, I had no idea what an invaluable gesture that would become.

He also set up a trust.  I worked closely with him on that, but only after he made all of the arrangements with a trust attorney.  Without this legal authority, my sister and I would be vulnerable to the unsolicited advice of well-meaning friends and to the histrionics of step-relatives who think that they are entitled to have a say in his affairs.  With the authority of the trust, we have the legal backbone to carry out his last wishes exactly as he directed.

And, that is precisely what we are going to do over the next seven days.  Every day will be fluid, but focused.  We are following a critical path of actions and decisions that will lead to the conclusion of every single aspect of his life.  We are stepping into our dad's world for a week to bring closure to his daily existence.  He started our lives, and we are finishing his.

It's a huge job, but he chose to leave it in our hands.  He did the heavy lifting in order to take some of the burden off of us.

Thanks, Dad

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Wednesday Special: Remembering My Dad

Gonna Miss Ya...

Rey Jones
February 19, 1935 - November 24, 2013

Monday, November 25, 2013

Monday—The Singing Crickets Corner

The reason why chirping crickets are so soothing...

Cricket Music_a poem by dsmp

When musician, Jim Wilson, sat down to experiment with the sound of crickets singing in his backyard, he discovered something wonderful.  At a much slower speed, the chorus of crickets sounds like a tabernacle choir.

What you are hearing is two tracks, the original recording played at normal speed, and the slowed down version of the same track in which the crickets sound like a heavenly chorus of angels.  From the soundcloud website, acornavi, by Ivan Roca... 

If you have problems hearing the recording, double-click on the acornavi icon & go directly to the website.

Click HERE for a truly fascinating blog post from Starts With A Bang written by theoretical astrophysicist, Ethan Siegel (who completed his PhD at the University of Florida), explaining the science behind what you are hearing.

It's super cool stuff, and as a linguist who has always been interested in animal languages, this really floats my boat!  Birds, whales, and as it turns out crickets are truly making beautiful music.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sunday—Holiday TV Guide 2013

It's still fun to watch the holiday season specials on TV!

Nestor Claus

Kick off the very first Christmas special on Tuesday, November 26 with Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer on CBS at 8 p.m.
Click HERE for the full list of holiday specials.

On Thanksgiving, check out the Lady Gaga & The Muppets' Holiday Spectacular at 9:30 p.m. on ABC.

Let the holiday TV season begin!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Friday—The Photoshop CC Gallery: AM Fall Festival

It's Pirates of the Caribbean Week at our dance studio this week!

We've been participating in the Arthur Murray Fall Festival, and this year's theme is Disney!  We are Dizfanatics, so this 6-week festival has been a blast.

Each week, it's a different Disney theme:

Week 1:  Toontown_We were old school Mouseketeers

Week 2:  Tomorrowland_We wore Monster U. teeshirts

Week 3:  Fantasyland_Steve was in BC for his dad's birthday, but I went as Cinderella's fairy godmother.  2 Cinderellas are behind those hearts...

2 Cinderellas & Fairy Godmother

Week 4:  Frontierland_Vintage Western shirts & a chili cook-off_Yeehaw!

Cowboy Steve

Cowgirl DSMP

Week 5:  Pirates of the Caribbean_Arrgh, we be PIRATES this week!

Week 6:  Alice in Wonderland Holiday Ball_December 8

Pirate pix coming up this week before Thanksgiving, 
so stay tuned, Mouseketeers!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Thursday Mini-Post: Pig Drumming 101

For drumming on your pig...

A funny for You!  

Thank YOU, Mary!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Wednesday—Good For You, Good For the Home: Pirate-y Eggs & Bacon

A fun Christmas gift for around $10 + $2 shipping

This is the perfect way to start Talk Like A Pirate Day (which is always on September 19th)...or to use whenever you're feeling pirate-y!

Fun in the kitchen
Where to Purchase It
From Fred & Friends available on Amazon (my favorite way to buy stuff online).  If you want to add to your present, give them a gift card from their favorite grocery store to cover the cost of a dozen eggs and a package of bacon.

Click HERE to order $25 & $50 gift cards from Whole Foods on Amazon.  

4-Star Review
According to someone who purchased this item & reviewed it on Amazon, the cooking pan must be flat, and the silicone mold needs to be sprayed with PAM & preheated to get the best results.  Also, if you reuse the same pan, it needs to be cleaned to prevent sticking the second time around.  It's dishwasher safe, so rinse it off & toss it into the dishwasher for easy cleaning.

I would have loved using a cute gadget like this when my kids were in school!  Great for the grandkids, too (if you have them).  

Happy cooking!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Tuesday's Cupboard—Thanksgiving Essentials 2013

Getting back to basics with an excellent menu from the NYT

Thanksgiving 2012

It's everything you'll need for a fab Thanksgiving dinner!

Click HERE for a superb interactive Thanksgiving menu from New York Times food & dining writers, (the elegant) Julia Moskin & (the darn cute) Melissa Clark.

The Basics
They start with the basic categories of every Thanksgiving meal.  

•  Simple Roast Turkey
•  Stuffing
•  Gravy
•  Cranberry Sauce
•  Potatoes
•  Orange Veggies
•  Green Veggies
•  Pie

At our house, appetizers & a garnish tray brimming with home-canned treats & deli specialties are essentials, so feel free to add in your own traditional favorites.

Favorite finger foods

Julia & Melissa provide us with traditional favorites, plus a couple of alternatives in each category.  Even if you already have your menu planned, the videos (about 1:30 each) are worth a watch.  Oh man...they will inspire and make you hungry all at the same time!

Their dry rub for the turkey looks wonderful, and I think I will try dry brining the turkey this year.  I like to change up the turkey every year.  I also like an unstuffed turkey, so I'll make dressing on the side this year.  

Toasted sourdough bread for the stuffing
It's Mark Bittman's Make-Ahead Gravy for me this year!  Yay, I hate making gravy at the last minute.

My choice:  Their recipe for Mashed Potato Casserole with Sour Cream & Chives.  Hell yeah, make it up to 3 days ahead!

Cranberry Sauce
It's our favorite cran-sauce:  Steve's Maple-Cranberry Sauce

Steve's Maple Cranberries & Golden Raisins

Look for this recipe and our favorite Deer Valley Pecan Pie in next week's Tuesday's Cupboard post.

Their Two-Way Stuffing with Mushrooms & Bacon looks pretty darn tasty!  Steve & Zak will love the bacon & fresh mushrooms.  Again, this is a side dish, so it does not have to be stuffed, but you could roast it in the bird if you wanted.

Orange Veggies  
Their Roasted Butternut Squash & Red Onion casserole looks fabulous!  That's going on my menu, for sure.  I'll use pine nuts instead of green pistachios.  

Green Veggies
I am totally doing their Hashed Brussels Sprouts with Lemon Zest!  Instead of hand slicing the Brussel Sprouts, I may foop them (chopped in the food processor).

Steamed fresh green beans, Meyer lemon zest & red peppers
with toasted sesame seeds

I liked their chocolate pecan pie, but I am leaning toward our traditional Deer Valley Pecan Pie with Cinnamon Whipped Cream.

My 2012 pumpkin pie

Monday, November 18, 2013

Monday—The Library Corner

A Library: A World History by James P. Campbell

Twin lion statues in front of the NY Public Library_1948
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons_via National Archives

For the Love of Libraries
For those of us who spent our childhoods quietly wandering through the numbered stacks of a big city library in pursuit of not just one book, but as many as we were allowed to check out, libraries represent all that is good about humanity.

The depth of human knowledge and the full spectrum of the human experience sits on alphabetized shelves waiting to be extricated, opened, and absorbed by curious minds.  Libraries were created to preserve our collective wisdom and to free our collective spirit.  The world's most beautiful architecture rose up to protect and preserve the collections of kings, philosophers, scientists, and monks.

James WP Campbell, fellow in architecture and history of art at Queen's College, Cambridge, and  photographer, Will Pryce, traveled to 20 countries to document 82 magnificent libraries.  From the State Library of Berlin, which houses the world's largest collection of Johann Sebastian Bach and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's manuscripts, to the colossal New York Public Library reading room, it is a journey through time, architectural expression, and intellectual expansion.

Put it on your wish list, bibliophiles!

Click HERE to purchase it on Amazon Prime for $47.73

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sunday—Celebrating A Birthday!

Cool cat & all-around nice dad_Jim Nelson_is 87!    

Happy Birthday from Walnut Creek!  

✽     ✽     ✽     ✽     ✽  

from Nestor

from Tiggy

We love you!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Friday—The Creative Cloud Gallery: Bighorn

Original photo by Steve Nelson_17 November 2013

Post-processing in Photoshop (CC) & Lightroom5 by dsmp

Texture_kk 2710 by Kim Klassen

View of Lake Mead & Fortification Hill from Bighorn Sheep Park_Boulder City, Nevada

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Thursday Mini-Post: First 100 Days Panda Twins

:::::  Awwwwww!  :::::

Watch this awesome time-lapse vid (2:48) of Mei Lun & Mei Huan, baby boy pandas born at Zoo Atlanta on July 15, 2013.  It'll melt your heart, and you'll have to watch it more than once!  Lun Lun is their mom.

Happy 100-Day birthday, little panda cubbies!

Click HERE to check in with the panda cam

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Wednesday—Good For You, Good for The Home: 100 Days

100 days of purposeful living

Making positive change happen!

I've written about 100-day planning before, but I wanted to follow up with some of the inspirational stories from individuals who are participating in the giveit100 project.

Click HERE to scroll through the individual videos.

100 days from today (November 15, 2013) will be...Sunday, February 23, 2014.

Click HERE for a handy date calculator from

It's Time To Think Up Your Own Project!
What can you do for 100 days?  I invite everyone to scan through the giveit100 videos & come up with a 100-Day goal of your own.  It does not have to be anything monumental, but it can be.

It can be something as silly and fun as making a different noise each day with your body parts (click HERE for Zack's story) or something as immediate as helping hurricane & storm victims (click HERE for David's story).

More ideas...

•  Show gratitude every day for 100 days
•  Do a home organization project every day for 100 days
•  Switch to non-sugary drinks for 100 days
•  Use an electric toothbrush for 100 days
•  Learn a new word every day for 100 days
•  Help the homeless for 100 days
•  Learn to play a new instrument for 100 days
•  Work on that unfinished book for 100 days
•  Do yoga for 100 days
•  Work on a home repair project every day for 100 days
•  Learn a new language
•  Learn to knit or crochet
•  Take a new photo every day for 100 days
•  Do something nice for animals every day for 100 days
•  Blog every day for 100 days

What's my 100-Day Project?
This is an easy one.  I'm going to reorganize my sewing room and revive my craft biz.  Can't wait to get started!

It's time to commit.

100 days of positive change.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Tuesday's Cupboard—Tortellini Salad

A big, hearty pasta salad with bright colors & robust flavors!

Serve this fantastic salad over greens with warm crusty bread

This is one of my go-to make ahead recipes for potlucks.  It's low-cal (264 calories for a 1-1/2 c. serving), full of heart-healthy veggies, and it's even better as leftovers.  This makes a fantastic brown bag lunch!

Serves 8 

Original recipe from Weight Watchers, In One Pot © 2003.

Colorful & nutritious

Tortellini Salad


1 - 1 pound package of fresh tortellini from the refrigerated case

1 - 15.5 ounce can of kidney beans, rinsed & drained

1 - 14 ounce can of artichoke hearts in water

4 ripe plum tomatoes, chopped coarsely

1 small head of radicchio, chopped

2 medium bell peppers, red & yellow or green & red, any color combo

1 bunch of green onions, cleaned & chopped

2/3 cup bottled Italian dressing (I like Newman's Own Family Style)

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

kosher salt to taste (about 1/2 tsp) & freshly ground black pepper


1.  Cook the tortellini according to package directions.  Rinse & drain under cold water.  Let cool.

2.  Meanwhile, combine the beans, artichoke hearts, tomatoes, radicchio, bell peppers, green onions 
& dressing.

3.  Add the tortellini, dump the Parmesan on top & combine.  Season with kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste.

4.  Serve over fresh mixed greens ~ delicious!