‘This is Us’ reminds us what not to do if your house catches on fire

“This is Us” the last two weeks has been a guideline of what not to do if your house catches on fire.

Here’s what Jack Pearson should have done:

Milo Ventimiglia plays Jack in “This is Us.” (Ron Batzdorff/NBC)
  1. Call 9-1-1 first. In the time Jack was running across the hallway to get the kids, then back in to get the dog and the keepsakes, the fire department could have been on the scene putting out the fire.
  2. Don’t forget the batteries in the smoke detector. Rebecca nagged Jack to change the batteries, but he didn’t do it and she didn’t do it either. Change batteries twice a year when you set your clocks back or forward.
  3. People over pets. Yes, we love our dogs, cats, bearded dragons and chinchillas, but going back in for a dog might have been the thing that killed Jack. If the pets aren’t right by you, let the fire department find them, not you.)
  4. Have a fireproof box with all of your treasured memories and important documents. You won’t  need to be in the fire searching for keepsakes and inhaling more smoke.
  5. Anything with a faulty switch should be thrown out or replaced. Yes, it was lovely for the neighbors to given them their crockpot, but not if it would magically turn itself on. If you know something doesn’t work, don’t try to make do.
  6. Have a fire ladder for all the bedrooms on the second floor. The kids could have gotten themselves out that way and not had to go to the bedroom with the window that wasn’t as high.
  7. Have a family emergency plan and practice it.  Knowing how to get out and where to go in a fire is important.
  8. Know where your kids are. Not knowing where Kevin was delayed the family’s escape.

Here are the top causes of house fires in the United States, according to a 2017 report from the National Fire Protection Association:

  • 46 percent cooking equipment
  • 16 percent heating equipment
  • 9 percent electrical distribution and lighting equipment
  • 8 percent intentional
  • 5 percent smoking materials
  • The rest were unknown.

The report gives us this information. A fire in the home happens every 86 seconds, and  “Unattended cooking is the leading factor contributing to these fires. Frying poses the greatest risk of fire. More than half of all cooking fire injuries occurred when people tried to fight the fire themselves.”

See, Jack, you’re not alone in trying to be the hero.

How to work with your siblings to care for your aging parents

It’s hard to watch your parents decline in health. Sometimes, it can be hard to cope with their health changes as well as manage the differing views and abilities of your siblings at the same time.

AGE of Central Texas is offering a free workshop, “Partnering with Your Siblings to Better Care for Your Parents,” on Saturday. Psychologist David Zuniga, who has focused on end-of-life care, caregiving and was at one time a Zen Buddhist chaplain working in hospitals, will speak.

David Zuniga is a licensed psychologist and a previous faculty member at the Integrative Medicine Department at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Working as a family on care for Mom and Dad has become more complicated as people are living longer and there are more options for care and treatment, Zuniga says. Plus, families are spread out geographically and adult children are working longer hours. Then add the financial stresses of falling behind economically or not having the same level of access to health care.

It can become very stressful when Mom or Dad needs more assistance.

The family dynamics that existed when you children were growing up might not have changed and sometimes even step-siblings can complicate it.

“All siblings, all families, from the time you are born, there is a natural inherent tension and competition,” Zuniga says. “That’s part of the human condition.”

As kids, siblings bicker over toys, he says. As adults, the stakes are bigger and they bicker over type of care and who gets to make the decisions. Often, siblings fall into their natural roles. One might be more likely to handle the finances, another might be more apt to do the physical work of caregiving.

“Our brain becomes conditioned to have the same thoughts over and over again,” Zuniga says. “‘My brother gets all the credit.’ ‘My brother is lazy.’ Automatic thoughts and judgments may impact behavior. You may not even realize it.”

Parents don’t help with this, either. Sometimes they automatically label their kids and continue to label their kids as “the independent one,” “the helpless one,” “the smart one.”

David Zuniga will be talking about working with your siblings on Feb. 10 in Lakeway.

Those labels, those identities get carried over even when it’s the children who need to parent the parent.

Try getting on top of some of those beliefs as soon as you find yourself thinking them. “When you don’t talk about things, they fester and grow,” Zuniga says. That’s why open communication between siblings is important. “Family meetings are life-saving,” he says.

If it’s possible, have parents before they can no longer express their wishes, make their health care decisions known. The American Bar Association has a free health care decision making toolkit available. We’ve also written about Austinite Debbie Pearson’s “Age Your Way” and “Blueprint to Age Your Way” that lets you share your wishes and likes and dislikes with your family.

Parents should have medical power of attorneys set up, as well as advance directives for medical care, and a financial power of attorney.

When parents make their own decision, it takes some of the stress and conflict out of it. “It’s not that you’re making the decision, it’s that you’re honoring your parents’ wishes,” he says.

Sometimes, when there is conflict, it’s good to bring in a mediator. “It often takes courage to ask for help,” Zuniga says. “We all need help.”

If you are in the position of having to make the decisions, make sure the other siblings are well-informed of what is happening and why. In families where there are multiple siblings, sometimes one group of siblings gets pitted against another sibling or another group of siblings. Sometimes there are siblings that get left out of the process as well.

That’s where creating an open channel of dialogue can be helpful, whether by email chain or conference call.

Sometimes, though, siblings can become too enmeshed in the care. They need a break. That’s where the siblings who aren’t the primary caregivers can offer help. They can help do research into treatments or care; or give their sibling a vacation from caregiving.

Often, when Zuniga talks to families who are dealing with their parent’s care, they will tell him: “Don’t talk to me about self-care. … I don’t have time for self-care.”

Self-care, though is important. “Do it for your loved one,” he says. “Stress is real. It can actually impair your neurological function. You won’t be able to care for the person you love as much.”

Zuniga recommends meditation or contemplative prayer, even if you just do it 30 seconds in the morning.

What happens when siblings are all aligned, but it’s the parents who aren’t in agreement over their care? “Your parents are going to want their autonomy and their freedom,” Zuniga says. “Their freedom might be the single most important thing to them.”

For you, it’s about their safety. Are they leaving the stove on? Are they falling a lot or leaving doors unlocked? If they are unsafe and you can document it, you can get adult protective services involved, but it’s much easier to come from a place of love and work your way toward a different care or living scenario with their buy-in.

You can start by talking to them about what their goals are. Is it to stay in their home no matter what? Is it about quality of life or quantity of life?

Families are not all about sibling rivalry and tension, though. “Family has a unique role that one one else has,” he says. “They can be there for each other in a way that no psychologist or psychiatrist can.”

If siblings are talking to one another, there can be great strength, laughter and joy during these years, Zuniga says.

Partnering with Your Siblings to Better Care for Your Parents

When: 10 a.m. to noon Feb. 10

Where: Keller Williams Lake Travis Market Center, 1921 Lohmans Crossing Road, Suite 100, Lakeway

Cost: Free, but register at ageofcentraltx.org

Recommended reading

“How We Die: Reflections on Life’s Final Chapter,” Sherwin B. Nuland ($17, First Vintage Books)

“Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End,” Atul Gawande ($26, Henry Holt and Co.)

“On Our Way: The Final Passage through Life and Death,” by Robert Kastenbaum ($36.95, California University Press)

“Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death,” by Irvin D. Yalom ($17.95, Jossey-Boss)

“When Breath Becomes Air,” by Paul Kalanithi ($25, Random House)

Recommended websites



For advance directives planning

American Bar Association, americanbar.org, search under Tool Kit for Health Care Planning

Texas Health And Human Services, hhs.texas.gov/laws-regulations/forms/advance-directives

For coping with illness

Society for Health Psychology, www.apa.org/about/division/div38.aspx

Roar like a dinosaur and more family fun in Austin, Feb. 2-4

This weekend is going to be what we love about winter in Austin. Sunny, highs in the 60s, possibly hitting 70. It’s a great weekend for doing things with the kids. Here are 20 events to get you started.

Louis Montanez, 9, plays on a mammoth rib cage cast in bronze at the Austin Nature and Science Center. LAURA SKELDING/AMERICAN-STATESMAN
  1. Austin Dinosaur Day. Find activities at Zilker Botanical Garden, Texas Memorial Museum and Austin Nature & Science Center. Saturday. Admission rates apply.
  2. Las Aventuras de Enoughie (The Adventures of Enoughie).” This bilingual puppet show teaches kids about kindness and is a collaboration between Zach Theatre, Teatro Vivo, Glass Half Full Theatre and the Kindness Campaign. 2 p.m. Sunday. More shows through February. Sign language, visual captions and sensory-friendly show Sunday. $14-$16. Mexican American Cultural Center, 600 River St. zachtheatre.org

    Bryce Hohertz, 7, of Dripping Springs, and his brother Cole, 5, look through spectroscopes to observe the spectrum of light at WeatherFest at the Bullock Texas State History Museum. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN 2016
  3. Bullock MuseumSeveral events coming up. H-E-B Free First Sunday: Weather Fest: Free family fun around the museum with the theme. Noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Bullock Museum, 1800 N. Congress Ave. thestoryoftexas.com
  4. Neill-Cochran House Museum. Sunday Funday. Create pop-up books. 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Free. 2310 San Gabriel St. nchmuseum.org
  5. Suminagashi Fabrics. Ages 4 and older. 10:30 a.m., noon, 2 p.m. or 3:30 p.m. Saturday snf Dunfsy. $8. Thinkery, 1830 Simond Ave. thinkeryaustin.org
  6. “The Wazir of Oz.” A Bollywood-style version with music by the Sacred Cowgirls. $12-$8. 11 a.m. Saturday. Scottish Rite Theater, 207 W. 18th St. scottishritetheater.org
  7. Faerie tea parties. Dress for the fairies and drink tea, eat mini cakes and go explore the fairy lands. 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. $20. Zilker Botanical Garden, 2220 Barton Springs Road. Register online at austintexas.gov/parksonline.
  8. Hideout Theatre Presents: Improv for Kids. Join the cast in creating the story. 11 a.m. Sundays. $5. Hideout Theatre, 617 Congress Ave. hideouttheatre.org
  9. Zach Theatre presents “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” Head to Narnia in the C.S. Lewis tale. Various times through Feb. 25. $18-$24. Whisenhunt Stage, 1510 Toomey Road. zachtheatre.org
  10. BookPeople events: W. Stone Cotter reads “Saint Philomene’s Infirmary for Magical Creatures” at 2 p.m. Saturday.  BookPeople, 603 N. Lamar Blvd. bookpeople.com
  11. Toybrary Play in Nature: 10:30 a.m. Fridays. $10. Toybrary Austin, 2001 Justin Lane. toybraryaustin.com
  12. BookPeople “Keepin’ It Weird” story time. 10:30 a.m. Saturday. BookPeople, 603 N. Lamar Blvd. bookpeople.com
  13. Thinkery. Exploring Seasons. 9:45 a.m. 2-year-olds, 10:45 a.m. 3-year-olds, Fridays. $20 per class, $140 for the series. Thinkery, 1830 Simond Ave. thinkeryaustin.org
  14. Barnes & Noble Events: 11 a.m. Saturdays story times at all locations: “I Am Harriet Tubman.”
  15. Baby Bloomers. All about Senses, 9 a.m. Saturday. For birth to age 3.  Thinkery, 1830 Simond Ave. thinkeryaustin.org
  16. World Play Your Ukulele Day: Free Lesson. 1 p.m. Friday, Recycled Reads Bookstore.
  17. “Anasasi and the Golden Box of Stories.” Ages 5 and older. 3:30 p.m. Friday, Yarborough Branch. 2 p.m. Saturday, Hampton Branch.
  18. Alamo Drafthouse PBS Kids “Pinkalicious & Peterrific.” 10 a.m. Sunday and Saturday, Mueller. drafthouse.com
  19. Saturday Family Movie. “Lego Ninjago Movie.” 1 p.m. Saturday, St. John Branch.
  20. Bow Wow Reading with Bonnie. 11:30 a.m. Saturdays, Yarborough Branch.