Friday, January 23, 2015

Truth...or Consequences

In the early days of television, there was a popular show called Truth or Consequences.  It was so popular that a town in New Mexico, originally called Hot Springs, changed its name to Truth or Consequences in response to the television show host's offer to air the program from the first town that renamed itself.  

Maybe that fast change of reality was a harbinger of ways in which truth...or consequences (for lack of truth)...would be adjusted in the times ahead.

Recently, the so-called Doomsday clock was readjusted to move the number of minutes to midnight at 3 minutes to midnight.  This "clock" was the product of the scientists on the Manhattan Project as a graphic way to demonstrate how close the earth is to self-destruction.  During its existence, the Doomsday clock has been readjusted 18 times.  Mostly, the clock has been used to indicate the possibility of earth's destruction due to nuclear proliferation.

No doubt the immense over-supply of nuclear weapons still threatens our existence, but this most readjustment included another threat to our planet--"unchecked climate change."

Truth...or consequences...BIG TIME.

Stephen Colbert introduced us to the concept of "truthiness"--which is in HUGE supply today.  In Colbert's brilliance, he staked out ground that it is his right to say what is true because "I don't trust books; they're all fact and no heart."  **

With the recent national election in the U.S., the Senate is now in control with the Republican majority.  That means committee chairs have changed--and the new chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is Senator James Inhofe.  As recently as 2012, Inhofe argued, citing Genesis 8:22, that “God’s still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous.”

I don't even know where to begin with that kind of reasoning.  It is indeed frightening that an elected official who has a major say in what the U.S. policy is in relation to controlling the negative effects of climate change can decide that we don't need to change because whatever is happening with the climate is God's doing.  

In other news, we are experiencing another example of "Truth or Consequences." After years of decline due to near universal immunization against measles, the U.S. is experiencing a startling resurgence of this disease.  The initial outbreak has been pinned to Disneyland where many people intermingle, and measles--a HIGHLY contagious disease--has spread through workers and visitors there. In turn, these people have infected other people, so that now an epidemic of measles is emerging.

Who are the people GETTING measles?--those who are under-immunized or NOT immunized. The main contributor to this outbreak are parents who refuse to have their children immunized. They have decided, using "truthiness", that--even though the facts are that immunizations save lives and immunizations do NOT cause autism--it is their right as parents to deny their children the protection of immunization.  They base their decision, in part, on a doctor from England who in 1998 published a paper that claimed to link the MMR (measles/mumps/rubella) vaccine with autism.  Since that paper was published, we have learned that the doctor MADE UP his data, and he was a complete fraud.


(Source of Graphic: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/just-how-contagious-are-the-measles-anyway/)

So now children suffer, and could die, because someone made up his own facts and asserted a relationship where none existed.

The saddest part of this tendency in humans--to make up their own facts or to deny facts that they wish not to acknowledge--is that SOMEONE suffers.  Children who get measles suffer, people living in areas threatened by rising sea levels suffer, animals faced with loss of habitat and extinction suffer.

It is time to face TRUTH...or suffer the CONSEQUENCES.
---------------------------
** I was tempted to comment on how Fox News has changed people's perception of reality...you know, make the charge and find the facts (if they exist) later...but that's for another time in this blog.

Friday, January 09, 2015

De-Cluttering

Yup, you guessed it.  This is the time of year wherein many people make a New Year's resolution. Now, we all know there is nothing magical about making such a resolution. Many resolutions we make are utterly forgettable and within months...or weeks.. or even days, we have forgotten them.

The urge is very normal, and even commendable.  Most resolutions focus on some aspect of self-improvement.  We vow to do something to make ourselves better--lose weight, exercise more, have lunch with friends more frequently, write more, read more, etc.  The list goes on.  And all those goals we set are worthy.  

But we also know how easy it is to forget.  To say--well, just for today, I don't need to ____. (Fill in the blank.)  And, next thing you know, the resolution falls discarded by the wayside.  Give us eleven months and we will revisit the ritual.  Make resolution, implement resolution, forget resolution, regret resolution, revive resolution.  It takes about 12 months for this process to work out.

So, this year, I decided--only ONE resolution.  And the title gives it away:  de-clutter.  My solemn resolution is one drawer at a time, one closet, one corner, one room--one whatever.  Just to slowly and surely go through "things" and decide what can be given away (Freecycle), what can be donated (Goodwill or Salvation Army), what should be given to our children (heirlooms...), and what should be placed in the trash.

Considering the amount of stuff we have, this process SHOULD take me a year.  Oh, and for inspiration, I have already watched George Carlin's classic routine on STUFF.  He nails it--we get stuff, then we need a bigger place to store our stuff, then we need more stuff to fill the bigger space.  

This persistent drive toward acquisition is one of the themes I have returned to several times:  here, and here for example.  In the second link, I talk about giving items...OK, stuff...to Freecycle. At the time I wrote that (2008), I counted that we had given away 140 items.  The count today stands at over 300 items.

So, de-cluttering?  You bet.  Should take me all year. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

It's Christmas! And it's summer!

A recent blog by a childhood friend of mine (read it here) set me to thinking about my earliest memories of Christmas.

Long time readers of this blog will know that I grew up in southern Africa (what was Northern & Southern Rhodesia, now Zambia and Zimbabwe respectively)--so no Victorian snowy Christmas memories*.  Instead, my Christmas memories are of summertime celebrations, with Christmas and summer holidays all being wrapped into one time off from school.  School in this case also meant boarding school (as the mission station where my parents were was at least a half a day's travel from the nearest government school).  With a school year that ran from January to December, the summer break fell in December.  So of course that meant the boarding school closing, and my coming home.

It is difficult to convey to someone who has never boarded away from home for any length of time what coming home means.  Off and on, in this blog I have written about boarding school--mostly my memories are pleasant.  I recall one or two friends' names. I recall good times with school activities--participating in sports, drama productions, as well as classroom work.  But what I most remember is how Christmas festivities in the city of Bulawayo helped set the mood for Christmas.  I particularly recall the carol singing that was held in a municipal stadium--all of which helped me amass a vast repertoire of Christmas carols.  One of my favorites was "Good King Wenceslas" with  men and women singing alternate verses--men taking the parts of the king, and women the parts of the page.  Oh, my--memories flood back.  But, I digress somewhat.

When Christmas holiday and summer vacation began, all boarders returned to their homes for a 6 week vacation. That time was filled with many little bits of activity that still resonate in my mind.  I previously wrote about the Christmas picnic adventure--of course, Christmas in the summer means picnic. 

Caroling was not confined to the Bulawayo municipal carol sing.  Many missionaries were quite good singers, and of course we sang in four part harmony (still my favorite way to sing...).  I do recall getting up early in the morning, on Christmas Day, and going out caroling singing "Christians Awake! Salute the Happy Morn).   As a young adolescent, I found it highly amusing to be serenading with a Christmas hymn early on Christmas morning.

Christmas also meant that missionaries from nearby missions would gather at one of the missions.  The emphasis was not so much on exchanging gifts as enjoying time together. However, there was one year when some missionary (I don't know who, but it sounds as though my mother--who could be mischievous--had a hand in it) decided to give everyone a gag gift.  Now, I acknowledge you would need to know the missionaries in question to appreciate the humor. But here are some of the gifts given. One was a small planter with a bean plant sprouting in it, along with ceramic PIG salt and pepper shakers.  The missionary receiving this had frequently lamented the blasted pigs who always got into the garden and consumed the beans, or at least broke the budding plants. Another gift was a straw man--a shirt stuffed with straw, and trousers likewise, with a cloth head and a placard that read "a good man." That was given to an unmarried missionary woman who kept hoping--and expressing that hope--for a husband.  At least that's what my childhood memories say we did.  

This time of year does prompt us all to reflect and revel in memories.  If those memories--and certainly my hope for you is that they are--then we return to them again and again.  I am reminded of that fact when I realize how many times I have written about Christmas here, even repeating some of the same stories.  But that's what we do, isn't it? We recall and share.

*Oh, my little opening comment about no snowy Victorian memories--I have a theory that many of "our" Christmas memories are shaped by "A Christmas Carol" or by Currier and Ives prints.  We see gaily decorated Christmas trees, complete with "candles" which Prince Albert from Germany helped popularize in England.  And we talk about a white Christmas. When it snows, it immediately kicks us in celebratory gear.  But these associations do NOT happen when it's Christmas and it's summertime.



Merry Christmas to all--whether near or far, whether north, south, east or west.


Thursday, December 04, 2014

An Accidental Pet

When the neighbor boy, whose family lives in the house behind our house (our backyards meet) was just a toddler, his grandfather gave him a pet rabbit.  The boy named the rabbit Hoppy.  For years, Hoppy lived with this family--they had a small outdoor hutch with a run about 2 feet long, and a small wooden box at one end. The floor of the hutch was a heavy metal mesh, about 1/2 inch squares, so he had no place (except inside the tiny wooden box) to put his feet down without his claws going through the wire

Hoppy was occasionally let out of this small living space to hop around in their yard, but if he refused to come back to the woman of the house when she called, she claimed he had "an attitude" and would scold him.  

They fed him erratically.  Usually he had a dish of rabbit food--plain pellets--and sometimes iceberg lettuce or a carrot or two.

Then came winter.  They covered his hutch with a blue nylon cloth that sailed and billowed in the wind.  The hutch was next to their house, so that was some protection.  The next summer, they moved his hutch to the top of the hill, which was where our yard meets theirs.  That's when Hoppy and I became--shall we say--involved.  I began taking him various food treats--carrots, bits of darker green leafy vegetables, occasional Cheerios.  And I took him fresh water.  

When the next winter came, the hutch was still at the top of the hill, where lots of wind blows by.  The blue cloth was still there--but that was all.  So we (by now my husband knew of my concern) bought straw and stuffed it in the wooden box to give him some warmth.  That winter, there were days when my footprints up the hill through the snow were the only evidence that anyone bothered to feed him.  So I tried to go to Hoppy's hutch everyday to make sure he had food.


When the rabbit hutch began to fall apart, I offered our neighbor that we would buy a new rabbit hutch.  Our neighbor's response--why don't you just take the rabbit.  You pay more attention to him than we do.

That was all I needed--that evening Hoppy had a new home!  We immediately bought him a new larger hutch, and a good supply of rabbit food and timothy.  In a few days, we began assembling an outdoor play yard for him, which eventually became two circles of fencing each about 6 feet across, with an interlocking passageway--a much wider area for him to explore.  Eventually, we figured out how to rig a cover for rainy or snowy days.  Finally, we put plastic around the outside on the side where wind blew in, leaving the other side exposed.

The capstone touch was when we bought not one but TWO heating pads--one for in his hutch during winter, and one for in the play area.  The play area now had straw everywhere, clumps of timothy here and there, several overturned boxes, as well as food and water every day.  Every morning we got him out to play, and every evening we put him back in his hutch to sleep.  He also got fresh food in the evening that by now included carrots, apples, arugula (a favorite), broccoli, cauliflower, and other tidbits that I would try.

Thus Hoppy became our accidental pet.  I had no thought of ever having a rabbit, and do not plan to get another.  I certainly would have preferred that his first owners had litter trained him--but since they hadn't and had kept him outside, his entire life was lived outside.

So, why the past tense verbs you may have noticed?  About a month ago, it became clear that he was eating less. Hoppy also got very picky about food--some days eating one food enthusiastically and the next day rejecting it completely.  He stopped eating arugula quite suddenly.  He limited his fresh food choice to apples.  Then, he began to not eat much at all.  And then he stopped eating.  I knew enough that any amount of time a rabbit goes without eating is not good.  As Hoppy had never been to a vet, and was at the advanced age (for a rabbit) of 12 years, I suspected his life was nearing its end, so we chose not to try to prolong his living.

Tonight, when we went to get him from his outdoor play yard, he was lying on his side, still.  Even so, we put him in his hutch for overnight, covered him with a towel.

Good night, sweet Hoppy.  Thanks for being such a good "accidental" pet.


Thursday, October 30, 2014

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

We have been traveling of late.  With our two children living at geographic points some 5,500 miles apart from each other, with the California kids living 2,600 miles from us and the London kids living 3,600 miles (all distances are rounded to the nearest number), if we want to get together as a family--we travel.

And that does mean planes, trains and automobiles!  Many times over.  


We just returned from London.  And soon we will travel to San Diego.  These trips are lovely, and always anticipated.  What great places to visit: San Diego with its near perfect weather year round, with the ocean within a few miles, with charming geography, with great restaurants, with the beach to drive along or walk along...what's not to like.  And London with its not so perfect weather, with the ocean no more than a train ride or drive away, with its wondrous history, with great restaurants, and parks to walk in...what's not to like.

Of course, the real reason we go either place is to visit our children, their spouses, and our granddaughter.  That means that wherever they lived, we would travel to see them. But what a bonus having two such wonderful places to visit.

Traveling always makes me ruminate on the means of travel.  A cruise makes me think of the days of sailing--when ships were the only means to travel great distances.  Ships today which carry passengers are vastly different from ships of decades and centuries ago.  No doubt, the early European immigrants who braved ocean voyages would be gob-smacked to see the obscenely over-sized cruise ships that stuff the vessel to the gills and then stuff the passengers likewise to the gills.

Planes shoved ships out of the way as the glamorous way to travel, and have been going down hill ever since. It is quite fun to look at old ads for airlines.  The glamorous way to travel, indeed.  On our most recent flight, when my husband checked us in online he snagged the bulk-head seats for us which meant we had legroom.  One practically kills for legroom on flights these days.  If we had sat in the usual seats in steerage, oops I mean economy class, we would have had about 30 inches of "seat pitch."  That's airline speak for legroom.  And that's before the guy in front of you decides to recline his seat the full amount.  You can end up with the video monitor inches from your face.  But--I digress.

During our various visits to England, we have taken several day trips--all by train.  Now, I love trains.  They continue to be my favorite way of travel.  Having grown up in what was then Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), I with my parents traveled multiple times by train.  Of course the trains there had individual passenger cars, so we as a family had our own room--complete with fold-down bunk beds where we slept on the journey.  About a decade ago, my husband, daughter and I made a trip to Spain, and we took an overnight train from Madrid to Granada.  That trip (where I had my wallet pinched) included a small sleeping berth for my daughter and me.  Not quite the same as the family cars of my childhood, and of course my husband was left to fend for himself elsewhere.

Trains today in England as quite efficient and immensely apologetic if they get off schedule or are delayed.  Frankly, since our trips are for our own leisure, we can be a bit sanguine and not mind the delays.  Plus we have great fun with the youngest passenger in our group.

We have also used the underground trains in a number of cities we visit.  The London Tube is something I have not mastered--but thankfully we have an excellent guide in our daughter.

Which brings me to the last mode of transportation--automobiles.  The United States once had a flourishing train system, but that was pushed aside with the building of the interstate system.  Passenger trains now vie with transport trains for track use--and in fact Amtrak has no tracks of its own, so it can be pushed aside.  Interstate highways beckon--taking us where trains no longer go.

I learned to drive when I was 20 years old.  From the outset, I have loved driving.  In my career, there were times when I had to travel some distance--and driving was frequently an option.  I still enjoy driving.  However, driving in southern California has put a whole new challenge into driving.  During our first trip to San Diego (and every subsequent trip) we rented a car.  You can't get anywhere in southern California without driving.  As we left the airport, we followed the GPS instructions to get to the freeway--and then we ROLLED.  People do not drive in southern California--they roll.  You merge as quickly as you can onto the freeway and then you keep moving.  If you change lanes, you just do it.  I am sure local drivers can always spot an out-of-stater--we use turn signals.  That's a rarity in southern California.  There is one place where we out-of-staters can shine over California drivers--we know how to drive in rain.  And ice.  And snow...sometimes.

Planes, trains and automobiles.  Love them all!    (And ships...but they weren't mentioned in the title.)

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Keep Calm ... and Carry On!

During World War II, the British government prepared a motivational poster designed to help the beleaguered population "keep its stiff upper lip."  The slogan it championed was--KEEP CALM and CARRY ON.  Millions of posters were printed, but they were never distributed.  The posters were rediscovered in the year 2000--and a whole new icon was born.

I humbly suggest we get some of those posters and distributed them NOW--to members of Congress, to newscasters, to local politicians, to everyone who is now freaking out about Ebola.

I am not suggesting that we take this emerging epidemic lightly.  But we really need to get a grip.  There were Congressional hearings held today, and legislators took their turns when it was their time to query--and took whacks at the head of the CDC as if he were a piñata hanging from the ceiling and they each had a brand new stick to flail away at him.  

I couldn't help but recall the beginnings of the AIDS epidemic.  And how little concern there was among politicians then.  Medical personnel knew they had a mystery disease on their hands.  Perhaps the fact the earliest people suffering, and then dying from this disease, were gay was part of the reason for the studied ignoring of the emerging epidemic.  

When AIDS first emerged as a true epidemic, I was working for the state medical society.  Part of my job was to work with scientific areas--so I helped staff committees of physicians who were trying to address the disease that was eventually called Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome--AIDS.  One day, I got a call from a public health doctor working at the state Health Department.  The Health Department had prepared an informative brochure with tips on how to prevent the spread of AIDS.  One of the precautions listed was to "wash."  When the pamphlet was sent to the governor's office for vetting, the question came back--wash what?   When they were told, they insisted that precaution be removed!  The level of ignorance--or lack of caring--was such that the governor's office then did not want to acknowledge that part of the means whereby AIDS was spread was unprotected sex.  And that knowledge, not ignorance, was one way to  help reduce transmission.

Fast forward 30 some years--and now we have legislative hysteria ruling the day.  Frankly, ignoring an emerging epidemic is NOT the way to control the disease.  But then, hysterical misguided politically-driven suggestions are ALSO NOT the way to control the disease.

In today's hearing, one of the suggestions was--REFUSE TO ALLOW ANYONE TO ENTER THE U.S. who is traveling from a west African location.  Really?  Well, people can travel from countries in west Africa to many other countries and then enter to U.S.  Only, now, public health professionals wouldn't KNOW the person had been in west Africa.  One of the biggest enemies of controlling an epidemic is ignorance.  Another enemy is fear.

We have both in abundance right now.  To hear the newscasters tell it, it's just a matter of time until everyone touches something that someone who heard about someone who had Ebola touched, and so because of that, we will all die.

Well, true--we will.  But not from Ebola.  There will be some other reason.  Many things are so much more threatening--smoking.  Handguns. Drunk drivers. Texting drivers. Lack of immunization.  Polluted drinking water. And on and on it goes.

It seems like a good time to break out the posters--KEEP CALM and CARRY ON.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Matters of the Heart

Of late, I have been ruminating on the nature of the human heart.  More about the reason in a minute.  One of the things I think about is the way in which humans are generally binary—most of us are born with two of everything: two eyes, two ears, two arms, two legs, two lungs, two kidneys, etc.  When we get to some parts of us, we are born with one—one brain, one heart, one liver.  These one of a kind parts of our bodies are, understandably, mostly indispensable.

For centuries, humans thought of the heart as the center of human life—kind of a brain, seat of wisdom and knowledge and moral judgment, as well as of all life.  Understandably, when you consider how indispensable the heart is.  Oh, I know other organs are indispensable—your brain, for example.  But there is something about how we view the heart that is just...well...different.

So, why this rumination?  Well, as I have previously written, I had experienced over the past several years bouts of atrial fibrillation.  That essentially occurs when the heart begins to put out conflicting signals as to when to beat.  The heart functions on its own electrical system—the S-A node setting the pace, and the A-V node bridging the atria and the ventricles.  In atrial fibrillation, another area sends out a rogue signal to beat, somewhere in the atrium, so the atrium beats, and then the S-A node sends out its signal, so the heart beats again.  Chaos—yup, that’s what it is.  A good description of what it feels like is a fish out of water flopping around on the deck.

And that’s what I have experienced.  The immediate correction is to shock the heart back into regular rhythm—which I have had done several times.  The first time the “cure” lasted for a year and a half.  Then the interval shortened to a year, then less, and finally to several weeks.  So it was time to consider another option, if there were one.

Well, TA DA, there was one.  It’s called cardiac ablation.  I’ll let you go here to see what that entails.  It is not a simple procedure.  The doctor advised my husband and me it could take 4 to 5 hours. Mine took a bit over 6 hours—so, I am told.  I don’t recall any of that, of course.

Before I went into the hospital, I told very few people.  No need to parade my medical history around and share it with the world.  Naturally, my husband knew, and our children with their spouses.  My father, and siblings knew.  Also a handful of friends.  That was it—no posting on Facebook or any such public place.

The day before I went into the hospital, one friend called and asked if I was nervous.  Well, I pondered a bit—and said, no, not really.  Then my dad asked how serious the procedure was—could it result in death?  Well, the answer is it could—rarely does, though.  But, the same can be said about getting in a car and driving down the highway. 

Did I think about death?  Naturally.  I think about death from time to time.  I am not immortal. The bargain of life is we are born, and we die.  I also like the opening words from my denomination’s Brief Statement of Faith:  “In life and in death we belong to God.”

So, while I think about death, it holds no fear for me. In fact, I have mused that dying during surgery would be an “easy” death compared to what some people go through.  It is for the living that death is hard.

Oh, please don’t think me morbid—this blog is, after all, about “matters of the heart”—both in the sense of what our hearts mean to us as living biologic creatures, and also what our hearts mean to us in those that we love.

Perhaps a brief poem by X. J. Kennedy (whose birthday is today, August 21, as I write this) speaks words I would say--

“In Faith of Rising”
When all my dust lies strewn
Over the roundbrinked ramparts of the world
I can be gathered , sinew and bone
Out of the past hurled
Delaylessly as I
Flick thoughts back that replace
Lash by dropped lid, lid to eye
Eye to disbanded face.
No task to His strength, for He
Is my Head—Him I trust
To stray the presence of His mind to me
Then cast down again
Or recollect my dust.

And then these words, from Sir Walter Raleigh, who penned them the night before his execution.

"Epitaph"
Even such is time, that takes on trust
Our youth, our joys, our all we have,
And pays us but with earth and dust;
Who, in the dark and silent grave,
When we have wandered all our ways,
Shuts up the story of our days;
But from this earth, this grave, this dust
My God shall raise me up, I trust!


In matters of the heart, I trust.