Archive for the ‘important stuff’ Category

My mother forwarded an email to me from the Ocean Conservancy about the International Coastal Cleanup on September 19.  They’re calling for volunteers everywhere to clean up the world’s oceans and waterways.  Those italics in the last sentence are mine.  

My first thought when I read the email was “Hmm, maybe I should go visit back east in September so I can be part of it.”  My second thought was how silly that was.  Creeks, streams, rivers, lakes all feed into the oceans.  A cigarette butt or discarded diaper on the bank of the Kansas River less than a mile from my house is quite likely to wind up in the Gulf of Mexico.  So even though we don’t see the end result, we see the beginning.

Every teeny piece of plastic manufactured, used, and discarded ends up somewhere.  If it gets in the water, it can end up very far from its starting point.  Everything.  The dental floss container.  The blister pack packaging over the dental floss container that sticks it to the cardboard.  The pricetag on the hook where the dental floss hangs in the grocery store.  

Last year 42 people in Kansas participated in the cleanup, collecting 1,310 pounds of trash. Maybe we can get more people realizing that Kansas trash doesn’t disappear into the earth.  I’ll do some picking up on September 19, and before, and after.  Thanks, Mom.

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War and peace

The other night at dinner with friends we discussed movies.  A and I had recently seen the two-part movie Che, and our friends wanted to know what we thought of it.  I found it interesting, but I do not like watching images of war.  The discussion turned to the value of watching war, on TV and in movies.  Our friend K, who grew up in war, believes that everyone should watch it, know about it, never forget it, so that it can be eradicated.  I can’t fully agree.  When I read too many books about war, or see too much on TV or in movies, I lose hope.  Despair overwhelms me and I begin to believe nothing can be done. 

If people experiencing constant war were the answer to an end to war, it would be gone now.

I know about it.  I hate it.  I pray daily for an end to war on the planet.  If I become immersed in images of war there is no benefit to me or anyone else.

This is not true for everyone.  There are so many things wrong in our world that each of us has to choose the issues we feel are paramount and focus on those.  Not everyone chooses the same issues.

Last fall I had a conversation with a family member who was unhappy that I was not volunteering for the candidates I supported.  She believes that everyone must participate actively in the democratic process.  When I told her I was much more interested in the health of the planet, the eradication of plastic as a disposable item, and radical change in our consumer society, she was surprised.  Those issues are not particularly on her radar. She doesn’t think about the plastic packaging she buys and throws away, or the imminent disappearance of energy resources, or the waste we are all guilty of.  To me that personal responsibility is much more important than doing fundraising and voter canvassing for a candidate. 

So my issues are not the elimination of war, or electing the right person, or reproductive rights, or even civil rights.  The most important things to me are taking responsibility for myself as a citizen of the planet and being compassionate to the people and animals around me.  (Oh, I’m sure I’ll think of more soon.)

I’m not sure this makes my thinking clear about images of war, but it’s a start.

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I’ve been sitting here at my desk thinking “Life is sure good.” Then I started picking that idea apart.  Why is it so good?  Last year stunk in a variety of ways.  The economy went into the toilet, I was quite sick most of the year, the world continues to lay waste to our resources, China seems to be taking over our country, and so on.

But look, on the flip side, we elected an excellent president, people seem to be getting the picture about not wasting what we have, I’m feeling considerably healthier, A and I are happily married, B is a terrific son turning into an adult I completely enjoy, I have many people in my life of whom I am extremely fond, our dog is good, and I could go on and on.

In the big picture, sure, life is not so good.  However, even in the big picture it appears that people survive horrible events and have done so over and over again in the history of mankind.  The Great Depression was tremendously difficult, and people died from hunger and cold and sorrow, but most survived and grew. The worst things happen to humans, and yet we go on.  

So I still think life is good, and I’m happy to be an optimist.  Is that statement redundant?

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I recently bought a SanDisk 2GB SD card for my Palm so that I could listen to books and longish podcasts.  I got it at Office Depot.  It was packaged in a cardboard sandwich with only a small plastic cover over the card itself. The company made note of it on the package:  “Now packaged with less plastic”.

This makes me very happy. I sent them a thank you email.

Furthermore, the whole sandwich was contained in a reusable see-through plastic box, which was removed at the checkout counter.  I think this is also swell, because it makes it easier for the manufacturer to use less packaging.  Office Depot gets a thank you too.

We need to encourage corporations to do the right thing.

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Whipping breast cancer

Today on NBC News (and I think also on the Today Show), they interviewed Dr. Susan Love, who is trying to get women without breast cancer to sign up for research studies.  I signed up, in honor of a friend who is undergoing treatment now.  

It’s at armyofwomen.org. I don’t see a downside to this.

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Mr. Hilarious

We have two Mr. Hilariouses in the house.

B is genuinely funny.  He has been since birth, practically.  He was making puns just about as soon as he could speak.  When he was in preschool, he made jokes all the time.  The other kids would be looking blank.  “Huh?”  And the teachers would be laughing hysterically.

He’s been home from college for a couple of weeks.  A few nights after he returned home we had dinner with friends, and B regaled us with tales of his new job showing apartments, of his boss, a former Latin Kings gang member, and of the second business – erotic photography (“You don’t call it porn, the girls get nervous”) – he (the boss, not B) is trying to get started.

I can’t duplicate B’s delivery or even content, but let me just say that having him home is extremely enjoyable.

The other Mr. Hilarious is Buster.  He’s the funniest dog we’ve ever had.  Unlike B’s humour, I don’t think it’s intentional.  His face is quite expressive, even though there may be nothing but dust bunnies up in that cranial cavity.  And he’s a doofus.  He falls over his own feet.  He hides under the bed with his whole back end sticking out.  Last week on our evening walk he went to take a drink from the pond and fell in.  He looked deeply offended when he came out, and  has avoided the edge of the pond since.

I love a good laugh.  I was once telling someone how great it was that B had such a fine sense of humor, and how important that was.  She nodded, and then said, “Wait, why is a sense of humor so important?”  Poor thing.

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I’m really trying not to blab too much about having Lyme arthritis, but at least temporarily it’s conscribing my life a bit tightly, so it’s on my mind a lot. The big symptom, the one that took me to the doctor, is swollen and painful joints. Not just a few, but all of them.

With any luck this will be over soon.

The main thing I want to say about it is that I’m shocked at how difficult it is to do everyday things. In web development, I am all about accessibility. I think about it with every site I work on. A great many aspects of everyday life are not easily accessible.

Let’s take, for example, because I’ve talked about them before, and so has Egghead Jr., those horrible plastic clamshells that many things seem to come in – she recently wrote about her Bluetooth headset packaging, but there’s also software, kitchen utensils, lots of stuff from Costco, etc. (Don’t get me wrong, I love Costco, but they do overpackage like crazy.) I hate those clamshells anyway, and have often cut my hands on them. With weak and painful joints in both hands I wouldn’t even be able to start.

It’s also quite embarrassing not to be able to manage. Under normal circumstances I can open doors, of course.  Right now, I can open some, but not all. The door to A’s shop needs to be simultaneously pulled and turned to get out of the building. It took me several tries, including some supporting muttering, to get it open.  The door to the retirement home where I’ve been going for water therapy has one of those giant buttons to push to get the door to open automatically.  But I ain’t using that stinking button.  So I push on the door with clawlike hand, and it sticks so that I have to throw my shoulder against it.

Now I understand the need for special tools – those things that help you zip up a dress in back (except that few people wear dresses with back zippers anymore), and the little tool that pops up a jar lid, and shoehorns.

I’m going on the assumption that my disability will be over in a month or two, and then although I’ll still be weak, I won’t be in pain and can start building my strength back up. I think, though, that this experience is showing me how close to the edge we all are. I’ll be paying closer attention to who needs what.  Not hovering, though.

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This last weekend we flew to Maine for the burial of my father’s ashes. Dad died on Valentine’s Day, 2007, and it was his wish to be buried in the memorial garden designed by my landscape architect sister D at the new church. The garden is now finished, thanks in large part to donations made in Dad’s memory to the church.

My dear A made the box to hold the ashes. He made it last year, a few months after Dad died. He has made many wonderful boxes and pieces of furniture, but this was the hardest thing he’s ever made. Because I’m the second oldest of a large family, I hardly ever spent time alone with my parents. But A went to several week-long or two-week-long woodworking classes in the town where they lived, and so stayed with Mom and Dad. I think he spent more time alone with them than I ever did. His relationship with them was a solid bond. He and Dad drank bourbon together in the evenings and much enjoyed each other’s companionship. His love for my father was evident in the box he made.

Six of the seven children trickled in over the weekend, with families. One brother (and his family) was missing and much missed, but his absence couldn’t be helped. It was an easy relaxed weekend, with only small amounts of crabbiness, and large amounts of food, blabbing, and love, especially for Mom.

The burial service was in the late afternoon on Memorial Day. It was just our family, the vicar of the church, and the bishop of Maine. (And of course, the funeral director.) It was a bit cool, but the rain held off. The service was short, and when it was done, D brought out a bottle holding forget-me-nots in water. She handed the flowers to my sisters and mother to toss into the grave. Then she poured water over all our hands and with wet hands, we each touched the box holding the ashes.

She and my brother lowered the box into the grave, and then we all took handfuls of earth and threw them in over the box. I put in an extra handful for my brother who couldn’t be there.

Then it was over. We all were teary, but the sorrow did not carry the sharpness we’d felt at the time of Dad’s death.

After a walk around the garden, we went back to Mom’s apartment for a feast. But first, everyone got a glass of bourbon (Old Crow, Dad’s choice, yuck) and toasted our father. “He was a good man,” one of my brothers said, and we all repeated it. Another brother said “To and with”, a toast Dad often used, and the rest of us chimed in.

Dad had wanted to have “He was a good man” on his gravestone, but the memorial garden only allows for small cobblestones. So his stone said:

Halsey DeWolf Howe
Jan. 21, 1921 – Feb. 14, 2007

We were all satisfied, and I think Dad would have been satisfied too.

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This is my second post about, oh, what would this topic be called?  The social aspects of illness, maybe.

Many people want to help me recover from Lyme disease.  My family practice doctor, my infectious disease specialist, my chiropractor, and my naturopath all have opinions about what I should do.  And each of these very good people wishes, correctly, to treat the whole person, not just the disease.   Yet their opinions are sometimes in conflict, which puts me in an odd position.  I need something from each one of them, but it’s not possible to do everything they all want me to do.  Thus I’m having to make some decisions based on not enough information.

One doctor wants me to take Zantac, another doesn’t.  One wants me to alter my diet, others don’t mention it. They all like me, and they are all good doctors, and they all have my best interests at heart.  And I may also add in a rheumatologist, who could very well have another set of opinions.

Then I also have my rolfers and massage therapists, along with my dear friends who have many excellent suggestions.  My yoga teacher is giving me energy treatments (I love this), and today someone suggested acupuncture.  I’ve asked to be referred to a physical therapist so that I can figure out how to regain my strength and also get some help with ergonomics (e.g., how to sleep through the night without waking up with shoulder pain at 2 am).

The treatment of Lyme disease is very controversial, with one end of the spectrum being up to a year and a half of antibiotics, and the other end being three weeks only of antibiotics.  My infectious disease doctor is somewhere in the middle, but I have dear friends who are on either end, and who are worried that I am doing the wrong thing.  I’m trying to stay away the Lyme disease internet resources, because the controversy is about as fierce as, say, the abortion debate, and it’s hard to remain optimistic in the midst of political arguments.

Friends and family also have many many suggestions, most quite good.

There’s no answer to this problem.  I’m glad so many people care about me.  But in some ways I long for the days of my childhood when the doctor was as a god, and you just did what he said and that was it.

The best help from friends and family is prayer, or meditation, or good thoughts, or beaming white light, or sending positive energy, which all comes down to the same thing and for which I am hugely grateful.

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I’ve been sick, as many of you know, with Lyme disease. I’ve tried to refrain from blabbing about it here, because it’s not really of general interest. However, this post and the next post will be about being sick in general.

We all know the person whose illness is his or her hobby. Sometimes it’s a person who is completely focused on the details of the illness itself (“When I got up I was feeling nauseous, so I just ate a little oatmeal, and then later my stomach really started churning. . .”), and sometimes it’s a person who doesn’t trust any diagnosis and goes from doctor to websites to doctor, looking for a miracle. And of course, talking about it the whole time.

I’ve been struggling with how much information to give out. Last night I went to a dinner with business colleagues, and there was no reason at all to say anything about having been sick. That was easy. But my family and friends ask me how I’m doing, and if I say “Fine,” they say “Yeah, but how are you really?”

The arthritic symptoms are pretty all-consuming, because every joint is swollen and sore, so there is a lot to say. But I have a couple of fears about discussing the illness.

  1. I do not want to become married to this illness. I am not sure where the line is between being informative and boring the living daylights out of my listener. If I ask “Is this too boring? Should I shut up?”, people will always say no. We are a polite species.
  2. It’s not helpful for me to focus too much on the negative aspects of this. It doesn’t make me feel better, and I’m pretty sure I will heal faster if I remain optimistic. It’s hard to keep my optimism when I’m mired in the details of what the doctor said or how my ankles look and feel. (Having said that, I should also mention that my walking partner suggested that I be in the moment when I am in pain, not judging and not pushing it away. I do find that to be very helpful, but it’s an internal focus rather than something I would blab about to other people.)

The good parts:

  1. I don’t have much work to speak of at the moment. It’s hard on my hands to be on the computer too much, and I need to be resting. So I have the luxury of time right now.
  2. Despite my reluctance to talk about it, I am very glad I have family and friends who care about how I’m doing. I think that’s a big boost into healing.
  3. It’s a finite illness. The symptoms might take a good long while to disappear (“Weeks to years” I’ve been told), but they will go away.
  4. Maybe I can catch up on my reading and deal with the big mess on my desk.
  5. I can do a lot of restorative yoga.

To my dear friends and family, please speak sharply to me if it starts to appear that I have nothing else to talk about than ice pack management or what the physical therapist said.

I’m saying “I’m recovering from Lyme disease” or “I’ve just finished treatment for Lyme disease” and not “I have Lyme disease.”

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