Sunday, June 18, 2017

Camp Seaforth in the Virgin Islands

Lise Winne writing the post today.

My understanding of my father's role in Camp Seaforth in the Virgin Islands is that he designed some buildings for it, accompanied on his trips to the location by Ken Webb, starting somewhere around 1969.

The Beach area where the camp was located was full of manchineel apple trees -- "quite poisonous, with acidic sap that could burn one’s skin" (quote by Rick Hausman).

Rick Hausman recalls setting up the camp:
"I went alone to Virgin Gorda via Puerto Rico. In P.R., I bought tents, dishware, cookware, and related supplies to outfit the camp. Meanwhile, back at the office, we were recruiting campers and staff."

He had a few other words to say:
"... you’ll hear wondrous tales of evacuations and near-miss hurricanes, a tiny sunfish sailboat with a single camper spotted just before he disappeared around the end of the island into the Atlantic current, the days when there was no motor boat to ferry water and supplies. I believe a sometimes-functional walkie-talkie was the only means of communication with the outside world. If the ACA only knew…"

Saturday, April 22, 2017

A Celebration of His Life Today

It was 4 years ago today that my father, Robert F. Winne, passed away. 

I found this lovely picture of him in the computer today. I think this captures his essence: innocent, sweet, ingratiating, evolved, thoughtful. Most of all, he was super-lovable and an ultra-empath, something the world always needs more of (and which I am seeking in my own life -- to be, and to be around).

I think about him every day, and particularly when I am in my studio (which happens to be almost all day long these days). He inspires me in my art, in my life, and in the last conversation I had with him: "Don't be docile" ... "You are meant to do something for the world" ... I hope I am fulfilling his dream of me in the moments in the studio as I draw and paint on his tables.


Here is the unadulterated photo of him (without the border). Love you, Dood, and for all eternity:

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

a philosophical moment with my father during his "dementia years", plus solving the hypoglycemia problem by taking away sugar

"Contemplating the Big Life Issues"

Lise Winne writing the post today:

There was a remarkable experience I had with my father during the years when he had dementia. It was as though his dementia disappeared for awhile, and in its disappearance, there was a deep conversation that took place. 

He actually realized he had dementia, and he did not like that he couldn't remember things from moment-to-moment, but in many other ways, he did not seem like someone with dementia at all. In fact, he was teaching me French in the last four months of his life, and retained a remarkable vocabulary, and could even rattle off names of artists who were influencing how he looked at landscapes or street scenes as we took drives here and there.

Anyway, he came to stay with us for a long period of time, just him, by himself. 

In the first few days, my thoughts were very much focused on how to keep him safe, and that meant cutting back on anything that could be confusing or where he could get lost. In fact, a "dementia episode" happened in Portland, Oregon where he went to go for a walk, but then forgot where he was or how to get back. He was then picked up by police. The police called me first, as my number was found at the top of a list located in his wallet. He was rescued by the people he was staying with, but I wanted to make sure it didn't happen again, especially under my watch.

So, I kept away from turnpikes where the bathrooms had too many stalls, and there were too many cars to choose from in the parking lot. I always traveled back roads with him, and never once did he panic at not knowing where he was or where to go. I tried to make traveling and our times together in my home as stress-free as possible.

I had read somewhere that some new research had uncovered that simple carbohydrates and sugars had a lot to do with dementia. He had a terrible time with hypoglycemia, fainting or feeling faint on walks, usually starting in mid-morning, around 10:00. So, I had a sixth-sense that the hypoglycemia was connected to the dementia somehow, even though I did not thoroughly research it at the time. 

His doctors in his own home town had suggested he carry around candy lozenges and granola bars to use when he felt faint. These are loaded with sugar, of course, good for an emergency. The problem with this approach, as I saw it, was that the whole day, then, would be full of, what he termed as sugar-lows. Every two hours, like clock-work, the sugar-lows would reappear, and there would be another crisis, where he would have to sit down or lean on me until his lozenges or candy bar would revive him again. 

Sugar-lows were greatly debilitating. He had tingling in his hands and feet, blurry vision, feelings that he was sleep-walking, slurred speech, looking dazed and confused, feeling weak, being barely awake for lunch, and a host of other problems. In other words, he was clear in the morning, but by mid morning and the rest of the day, his mind, memories and speech seemed to suffer. He would also take huge naps in the afternoon. With the exception of his professorial intelligence, it was like taking care of a toddler in that he needed a big nap in the afternoon, and everywhere I went, I had to take snacks, and be fine tuned to how he was feeling at all times. 

So, I tried a different approach. I took his lozenges and all of his pick-me-ups out of his luggage when he would arrive for his visits. I cleared my home of fruit juices, honey, chocolate, raisins, boxed cereals, ice cream, anything that resembled franken-food (like chips, a simple carbohydrate, though there was never much of that anyway), indeed every kind of sugar-laden thing except fresh fruit (whole and fresh like oranges, grapes, blueberries, strawberries and the like). In the morning I fixed oatmeal and eggs. He as sure wanted sugar with these meals, but I didn't give it to him, and explained that I was trying an experiment to see if it made a difference in terms of his sugar-lows

I can tell you that it made a huge difference. While I did carry around his lozenges in his snack pack for the first few days of this experiment, I eventually saw that I didn't need to, that I could carry around nuts, or crackers and cheese, or crackers and unsweetened nut butters, with water. In general, except for the whole wheat crackers, I kept carbohydrates to a minimum. In the evening I sometimes made pasta with a lot of vegetables or fixed a potato, but primarily most meals were soups, salads, meat, fish, lentils, split peas, eggs, dairy, stews, avocadoes, sometimes with or without a small portion of wild rice or brown rice. For dessert, I would hand him a banana.

All meals were also alcohol-free (alcohol turns to sugar in the body).

I ate this way right along with him.

How did it make a difference? Well, first off, he no longer felt faint at all, and I mean not at all. He did not even need his afternoon nap. In fact, not once on these solo trips did he even suggest that he needed a nap. While he still had dementia, it seemed to cut the symptoms in half. He was as clear in the morning as he was in the afternoon. It cut way, way back on his confusion, the disorientation episodes, the tingling sensations, feeling weak and unable to continue with an activity. He could still have issues with short term memory, but even that seemed "better." 

The lesson here is perhaps that if you are feeling physically well, your mind responds better too?

I tried to tell some of my other family members about my experiments with his diet, but I was not taken seriously ("You are not a doctor", I was told, among other things). So, when he was not at my home, he was back to his old diet and his old ways, and there was not much I could do about it.

If you are reading this, and have an open mind, try this experiment out yourself if you have a loved one who has dementia and/or hypoglycemia. It may bring your loved one back to life, or at least reverse the effects of dementia somewhat.

Anyway, my times with him in the "dementia years" were mostly about activities, taking long walks, going to art museums, taking pictures together, playing music, listening to music, gong to parties, and so on. I actually did not engage in many full discussions with him, especially emotional ones, because I did not know how to proceed into these subjects when dementia was part of the picture. So, I would often end these discussions with suggestions like "Would you like to pick flowers today? Look at how sunny it is!" often hugging him from behind. I felt optimism, light, nature and fun might be a good antidote to dementia, and hypoglycemia, and past experiences he might dwell on where he had experienced too much depression and PTSD.

But, I realized I was too quick to judge his capacity for deep thought and conversation. The whole way driving him home, the conversation between us got deep and philosophical, and I was floored by his ability to have such a discussion. 

It went something like this, though obviously this is the shortened version:

As I was driving, a car came into my lane and my father yelled "Watch it!" The other driver managed to swerve back into his own lane just in time. The road at that point was carved out of a cliff. On my side, there was a steep drop. The other lane had a steep rock bank. In other words, we were trapped in narrow confines, with nowhere to go should the driver have not realized what he was doing in the nick of time. 

It was pure luck that we managed to avoid a car accident. 

He seemed a bit shaken up after wards, and I said that I was sorry, that the type of road it was had not given me many choices. And then I said that it was perhaps a matter of being lucky, and that perhaps he, my father, was my "lucky star" because he had managed to be the only one of his troop in WWII who was not killed or injured, and that maybe he was carrying his star in the car with him at the time (I admit that sometimes I talked to him as though he was a child).

His response was something like this:

Well, maybe I do have a bit of luck. I've never thought of myself as lucky, but perhaps, in the end, that is what life is about more than our plans, or our abilities, who we marry or don't marry, who our kids are and what they become or don't become, who we meet or don't meet, or even whether I can control what happens to me in a car on the way home. 

And I'm not even wanting to control this car. I know somehow, that I have lost my ability to drive effectively, with my memory and all. 

I notice that a lot of old folks, when they lose control, can't stand the idea, and try to overcompensate by trying to control more in their lives, rather than less. I think that is foolish. I think at some point, you have to realize that life is very much about going with the flow, accepting fate, and people for who they are, and things that happen. It is a kind of surrender.

The life of surrendering my goals and my control is a good experience, I feel. It comes with a kind of beauty and peace. It is like looking at a field of flowers, say, and instead of picking flowers to take home with you, the flowers are already picked, but with your eyes, instead of your hands. You surrender to leaving them where they are. 

Even if you don't have flowers at home, memory is like a flower. Do you see what I'm saying? 

You open your memories like a flower opens to the sun. And mind goes to the memory of the field of flowers instead of concentrating on a lack of flowers at home. When you realize this, a lot of peace fills your life and even your body. 

You'll get to this place too, one day. So, just remember what I'm saying. We all get to the inevitable, but this intermediary phase is worth experiencing in all of its glory, without struggling against it. If you struggle against it, you won't truly experience what it is, and you won't see the beauty in it. There is a lot to be said for bringing your mind into a state of feeling fearless in the face of death, and that is what this is. 

My initial reaction to that car was a knee-jerk reaction of fear, of course, but the fear is not long lasting and does not make me want to struggle with it and hold onto it. I let it go, and the trust returns. 

That is the thing about all of us animals. All animals have to travel somewhere. We are not always safe, but we count on the herd, more or less, to keep us safe. 

Some animals drive the pack. 

Some animals get swept up in the herd, going forward. If you don't follow, you get stampeded. That's where I am. 

The contentment that comes at the end of life is well earned. It's a very different life than when you are a young buck and you are trying to get your career going, and a family started and all of the responsibility that comes with it. And when you are at that point, you think it will last forever. You realize you could have something come up that could end it all, but for the most part, you are trying to sustain that day to day. You don't have any concept of living in the state I am in now. I'm sure that it doesn't cross most young minds. But I can tell you that from this vantage point there is a kind of claustrophobia about the day-to-day striving, carrying a mortgage, worrying how whether you are treating your kids and wife the best way you can treat them so that you don't do any damage to them, how to be the best teacher you can be, how to play an instrument expertly and with feeling, how to keep the weeds out of the garden, how to make the perfect architectural drawing that will change your life, how to treat your colleagues in meetings where there are a lot of different perspectives and sometimes very opposing perspectives, and being able to afford the next new car -- all of those things. And it really isn't what life is all about; it is only a part of what life is about. And maybe it is much smaller than the allotment we give to it. It certainly seems to be too much of what life is about early on, so that you miss a lot of experience of just enjoying your relationships, and your children, and your home. 

I like getting up in the morning, going downstairs into the dining room, and looking out at the bird feeder, and enjoying the potted plants in the windowsill, and seeing the place mats all in a row on the table. You miss so many of these simple things running here and running there, and trying to keep so many things together. 

It is like this great whirring machine slows down, and goes quiet, and you finally understand what real peace and joy is: it is just in these simple things around your home and your garden. It is just where you are at any given moment, even if it is just closing your eyes in bed. When I close my eyes I sometimes remember the bad things that happened to me, but mostly these days I remember the good things. I think a lot about the past. For instance, I might think about how my grandfather carried me on his shoulders when I was a tot, and how much I felt lucky to be his grandson and to be loved by such a great man. I might think about how one of my army buddies came to comfort me after a big battle, which can mean the world when you are frightened out of your wits. I might think about Ken Webb and his grand visions. It is all of these things, reliving them with a different perspective. And sometimes I am not in bed with the lights out when I think about these things. Sometimes I am thinking about these things while enjoying watching some squirrel trying to get at the seed in the bird feeder. 

It is enlightening to come to this point. If I am intentional about it, it seems to stoke the enlightenment about it even more. I just notice so many more things now, without feeling I have to be an active participant. 

After this conversation, and letting him out of the car, I drove home with tears in my eyes, realizing that he was one of the most beautiful evolved souls I had ever known, or indeed ever had significant time with during my lifetime, and that I might lose him and his perspectives some day. 

I would think a person would have to be evolved to think in this manner in the first place, but with dementia it seemed incredible.

There were times I wondered if he had dementia at all (he was actually diagnosed with Alzheimer's -- but based on memory tests alone), but at these times I had my doubts. I could call him up on the phone and he might re-tell the same story over and over and over again, seem confused about nearly everything and be slurring his words. And then there were times like this, where he was so clear as to seem misdiagnosed. 

In fact, I sometimes wondered if the hypoglycemia was driving the bus, rather than some kind of brain defect.  

Writing this down is a way to always remember the things he said. I also share it with family, and with others who happen to find this page, about one way to live in the world, especially when you are old. 

  Robert F. Winne as an old man
(photo taken in a small food market) 

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

remembering my father on snow days

Lise Winne, Robert's daughter, writing the post today:

Today is a snow day. 

Since my father died in 2013, I think of my father every time it is snowing ... without fail.

Why? Because he always called during those times. He called because he wanted to make sure I was safe, not out on slippery roads. As he would say, "I hope you don't mind. It eases my mind. You'll always be my little girl." 

We both used it as an excuse to talk about many other subjects too (often for hours).

Not a week would go by without his phone call, regardless. And we would often talk more often than that, sometimes every day. 

So there is something special about snow for me at this point in my life: it is when my memories of him come alive. In fact, the snowflake is one of my inspirations for my art (I am an artist) ... and it all has to do with him. He was also born in December, a snowy month.

In a way, the snowflake represents the kind of art he liked too: detailed, symmetrical, abstract.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

father's day rememberances

circa 1930
My father (Bobby) wedged between his great aunt (L) and his grandmother (R)
and his sister (R)

Lise Winne (daughter of Robert F. Winne) writing the post today:

One of the things my father could boast of was an idyllic family life and an idyllic childhood. Even he would say it was "idyllic". I loved to hear his stories of his childhood, which he would recount in great detail. 

It was apparent that the members of his family had huge hearts, which he inherited and used on his two wives, sister, inlaws, elders, children and grandchildren. I hope the compassion, integrity and undying love he had for members of his family lives on in his grandchildren.

His neighborhood in a small upstate NY town seemed to be made up of similar kinds of people.

One of his stories that I keep thinking about went something like this:

In his neighborhood, most women stayed at home. They took care of the housework, looked after children, even neighbor children, shopped for groceries and medicines, and doted over their husbands. As women got into their mid-forties, it wasn't uncommon to find the lady of the house in bed at her time of the month (note: female surgeries were the exception and not the rule then, so a lot of women in their forties and fifties would often be found in bed). Neighborhood women helped other women not feeling well by bringing medicines and comfort, occasionally cooking, and also helping with children and shopping. 

If a woman got through the life transition without a hitch, this is when she might get a job, or at the very least, volunteer in the community, or volunteer to look after the grandchildren.

If a woman wanted to work (and not be relegated to home and hearth), she stayed unmarried. A popular profession for working women in his town was school teacher. My father recounts school teachers as being excellent at what they did, and furthermore, "no nonsense" (as he used to like to say, wagging his finger), but also very warm (like a mother would be). He said that because they weren't distracted by a husband and children, they were absolutely and fully devoted to their professions in ways that he didn't see from teachers in the 1960s and beyond. 

Indeed, the great aunt pictured above, was the school teacher in the family. She helped her sister with babysitting my father and his sister. He saw a lot of these two women as he was growing up.

For his lunch breaks from school, he went to his maternal grandmother's (pictured here). She lived in a large Victorian house. She would serve him up lunch, and then she would sit with him at the piano bench where he would do his half hour practice (he started practicing piano at age four). Sitting with him every day gave him an audience, confidence and the motivation to keep playing and to get better at his technique (in order to impress her). If he played well, she would clap. Many parents these days leave their children alone with instruments, expecting them to have the discipline to keep going, but to me it is obvious that this older generation had the right idea.  

On his way home from school, he often stopped into his paternal grandmother's house for some afternoon conversation and biscuits, and fruit when it was in season. 

It was an unusually polite society, where your elders listened to you, and you always listened to them. Respect was a two-way street. One on one conversations were the rule and not the exception. Children very rarely competed for attention or shouted over each other because there was plenty of adult attention to go around. Child rearing was a community effort. Life was largely about conversation. Conversation meant listening intently, politely and thoughtfully and offering up your best response. It was about reflecting. It was about allowing space within the conversation to get a full understanding about what was being said. This is one reason why my father was a master at self reflection and composure, and was often looked upon as wise by those around him; it was part of his everyday world as a child. 

Life was considerably slower then, as there was time for reverence for your community and neighbors. 

In his neighborhood, no one had locked doors. Neighbors looked at children of the neighborhood as a community responsibility where every woman shared in the task.

My father said he could go into any house in the neighborhood and announce his presence: "Hi, Mrs. ________________, it's Bobby! I'm down in your kitchen!" And the Mrs. would go into the kitchen and say, "Bobby! What a nice surprise! Oh, I'd like to hear how your piano playing is coming!" ... or something of that sort ... "Sit down and I'll fetch some cookies!" It was like that in just about every household. 

I think this is why my father retained his politeness throughout his entire life. He never swore (except when he didn't saw a board straight in his woodshop) and he always made an effort to be respectful. Being able to listen intently, to have an unusual amount of self reflection, to be considerate and moral in his responses, paved the way for an exceptionally close father-daughter relationship. 

Since I have been out in the world, I have realized how special that closeness was, and how incredibly unusual. My only hope is that this will inspire another father to be close to his daughter, by being respectful and a good listener, and offering up the most thoughtful and caring responses. It changed this daughter's life. Maybe it will change yours.

More childhood pictures:

Bobby as a toddler with his grandmother

 circa 1928
Bobby with his handsome father at Georgian Bay