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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas in the Caribbean


We are listening to Jimmy Buffet sing the song by that title. But, no, unfortunately, we aren’t sitting on the beach with boat drinks. Instead, we are holding our faces about 12 inches from a “Mr. Happy” light, one of our Christmas presents to ourselves.

Mr. Happy is not its real name. But since I’m not into product endorsements, I’ve stolen the name one of our friends uses for his light. Mr. Happy is a light that’s supposed to help you cope with seasonal affective disorder. That is when you wish you were at the beach enjoying boat drinks instead of preparing to shovel your way out of the driveway.

Oh yes, some of the forecasters are saying we may have a blizzard.  What better way to celebrate the holiday than with a Mr. Happy light and a blizzard outside? Mr. Happy and we wish you a Merry Christmas.

Whether or not you are drinking boat drinks, Jimmy’s song is perfect to take your mind off the dreariness of a Christmas day in the Ohio valley.

 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Holly Berries


Although this year has been unseasonably warm there is the forecast for possible snow in a few days.  Today is rainy, dull and dreary. One of those days that make me wonder why I am sending a Christmas message at all. If it’s going to be this dreary maybe we should be celebrating Christmas in the Caribbean and singing Jimmy Buffett songs. Instead of toasting with eggnog and rum we could be basking in sun and drinking rum, adorned with little umbrellas.

So little has happened this last year I considered just crossing out the date and posting last year’s message. But then I thought better of it. Besides, how can it almost be Christmas without the holly tree report? As you may know, every year about this time I talk about the holly trees in our front yard.  That’s not really because holly trees are so Christmassy. In truth it’s because my computer sits next to a window overlooking the holly trees. And when I’m sitting at the keyboard daydreaming, rather than writing, I look out at the holly trees.

So here it is: this year, because the weather has been so warm the birds have lots of food and are totally ignoring the holly berries. Hence we have lots of cherry-red berries outside. So there’s some good news. Though I suspect it’s one more sign global warming is upon us. Why else would we have these unnaturally warm winters?

But it’s still Christmas on the calendar. So once again the countdown is nearing its final moments, it being Christmas Eve and all. This year we even had an extra weekend between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The more opportunity to run out and shop. But we tried to avoid the shopping malls, doing our shopping over the Internet wherever possible. Nevertheless, what we have bought is unwrapped and scattered in our spare room, looking like the start of the disaster movie, 2012.

Unlike last year, though, we’ve attempted no “natural decorating”, other than to bring in a few holly branches. I know, enough with the holly trees already. For the inside Christmas tree, we bought a small, pre-lit, artificial Christmas tree. Its decorations consist of tiny garland with even tinier ornaments attached. So it’s official: we are geezers who don’t even put up a full-sized tree.

Speaking of calendars and 2012 disasters, at least all the Mayan “end of the world” foolishness turned out not to be true. Yet. The bad news is all those presents still need wrapping. So I will close this message with a wish that your Christmas is as warm as rum in the Caribbean, as satisfying as having the presents finally wrapped and out of the spare room, and as picture perfect as the holly tree in our front yard is on this day. Minus the rain and drear.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

CALL THE PONY EXPRESS—ANOTHER “INDIAN” MASSACRE


I promised myself I would write more upbeat, happy essays. After all, life is too short to wallow in sadness. And I did claim this blog was mostly about the amusing things in life with only an occasional dose of seriosity.

But then I turn on the news and see the funerals of little children.

Local news is no better. If they are not covering the national tragedy in Connecticut, they are reporting on local violence and threats to schools in Jefferson and other counties in Kentucky.

Meanwhile, the front page headline of Louisville’s Courier Journal proclaims drastic budget cuts in Kentucky to school safety. A Kentucky state representative is quoted as saying we “need to study” what happened in Connecticut before we think about putting more money into school safety.

We aren’t back in the 1700’s, which incidentally is when the Second Amendment was adopted, and when stagecoaches and the Pony Express carried the news. Don’t we already know what happened?

A young male with easy access to military style weaponry shot his way into a locked school and massacred little children. Back in the 1700’s I suppose we would have called out the Calvary and blamed the Indians for rampaging. Maybe we would have evacuated families with children to a fort.


In the New York Times an architect writes about how we should “harden” our schools like we have done for airplane cockpits to keep the crazies with guns out. Or maybe we should just make schools, movie theaters, churches, mosques, and shopping malls into fortresses, along with anywhere else a crazy person with legally-purchased automatic or semiautomatic weaponry and accoutrements might go. That would take a lot more money and for more than just school safety.




 
Our love affair with guns and belief in an inalienable right to a gun-toting “frontier” way of life with 21st century weapons has created the opportunity for this mass carnage of innocents.  And politicians, whose blind obedience, until now when some sane voices have emerged, including Louisville’s own brave Representative John Yarmuth, to the NRA’s big stick, have the blood of innocent children on their hands.


Monday, December 17, 2012

Schatzie Then and Now



The last few days have been a roller coaster ride with our dog. And not in a good way. Up, down, and then really down. Today we made the decision to end his suffering. As the veterinarian said, “he’s now in doggy heaven.” Actually, given some of Schatzie’s behavior over the years he may be spending a little time in doggy purgatory. But probably not too long. He had a good heart.
I thought I'd share part of an essay I wrote about Schatzie shortly after he joined our household. The full essay previously was published at More.com.

 
My Inheritance
Schatzie first entered our household as a Goth invades a village: plundering, devouring, and then pissing on anything still standing.  Mom had fallen and broken her hip, leaving me to care for Schatzie, her beautiful sheltie who ate only restaurant take-out meals, sprawled on the furniture, and nipped anyone he thought had overstepped the bounds.  Bringing this intruder into the home my husband and I share with Buddy, a full-size, sweet-tempered collie, was severely straining our marriage of over thirty years. 
Buddy in his unique herding style made peace.  Buddy never protested when Schatzie snatched food from Buddy’s dinner bowl.  Instead, Buddy gently shouldered Schatzie back to Schatzie’s own bowl.  When the invader shoved to be first at the door or yapped at dogly-imagined burglars, Buddy set the standard for quietly guarding his family and home. 
A truce was developing between the dogs and the people.  But each dog’s personality and temperament still shone through.  When I walked Buddy and Schatzie they stretched my arms as each headed off to where his own nose led; if all four of us walked, the dogs dragged us in opposite directions. 
Several months after Mom’s return home following the hip fracture, a routine CAT scan revealed a terminal cancer had invaded Mom’s pelvis.  She refused to go back to see the doctor, somehow anticipating the bad news.  Rather, she sent my brother and me to get the diagnosis. Mom then commanded we break the news to her.  After barely a pause, Mom focused all the intensity of her Newman-blue eyes on me:
 "Will you take Schatzie?”  
Of course I said, “Yes”.  
As late summer faded into autumn, Mom went through five weeks of “palliative” radiation.  In the bleak months of fall and winter, Mom declined and Schatzie again became my responsibility and full-time companion.  Despite Schatzie’s many bad habits, feeding, walking, and attempting to groom him provided welcome distraction from witnessing tiny drops of Mom’s life spirit drip from her daily.
In the dark of winter Mom entered her final days.  Schatzie slept quietly at my feet for the first time.  Meanwhile, our gentle Buddy abruptly went into heart failure from a previously undiagnosed congenital heart defect.  My husband and the emergency veterinary care group nursed Buddy and he returned home. 
We were not able to nurse Mom back to health; she died quietly at home in her own bed with my brother, me, and Schatzie at her side.
 Schatzie again joined our family, this time permanently.  He now walks over and curls at my side, causing me to flashback to a scene from three years ago.  Schatzie was going to visit Mom for the first time after her hip fracture.  She had refused for months to let me bring Schatzie.
‘It would upset him too much.” she had said. 
Over the months, Mom fought to take a few steps with a walker.  Once she had regained enough mobility that a return home was plausible, she consented to a visit.  I put Schatzie on a leash, leading him from my car to Mom as she sat shaded by the overhang of the nursing home. 
But Schatzie would not go near Mom.  Instead, he curled up next to my chair and refused to budge.  
“Come on Schatzie…. Go to Mom,” I repeatedly coaxed him.  
Mom kept her eyes down.  I knew she was confused and hurt by his rejection.
Schatzie and I had gotten up to leave as I tried one last time to get him to approach Mom.  As I walked with him to Mom’s wheelchair, he leaned into her legs and moaned, a low, rumbling sound.  Schatzie moaned for several minutes before settling down next to her. 
Schatzie now follows me wherever I go in the house, curling by my side while I sit at the keyboard, in a near corner while I make dinner and next to my easy chair at night.  When I am with Schatzie I often am flooded with images of Mom, from recently and over the years.  Schatzie still scarfs his and Buddy’s food from both bowls; but, he has taken to first gently touching Buddy’s nose with his own. 
 
Four years have passed since Mom’s death. Schatzie, like Buddy before him, has left us. We wander an unnaturally quiet home and put away his bowls and toys, pick up the plush rugs and bedding. And moan the loss of the strong-willed intruder who stole our hearts.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

End the Madness

The death toll from the United States’ love affair with weapons just keeps mounting. The latest carnage is twenty small children and the six teachers and staff who futilely tried to save them from a lone, crazed gunman, heavily armed with automatic weapons legally purchased by the gunman’s mother. Oh, and also the gunman’s mother, a gun lover, who was her son’s first victim.

The Second Amendment and recent Supreme Court opinions, District of Columbia v. Heller 554 U.S. 570 (2008) and McDonald v. Chicago, 561 U.S. 3025 (2010), are used to buttress the claim that every Tom, Dick and Harriet has the Constitutional right to buy and carry guns.

In 1791 when the Second Amendment was adopted guns were made by a gunsmith as single-shot weapons, loaded through the muzzle, fired by a flintlock, with rudimentary rifling. Now gun lovers, like the latest shooter’s mother, can easily buy all sorts of guns, including automatic weapons. Along with lots of ammunition for quickly re-arming those weapons.

We are seeing how well the rigid and some would say poorly thought-out application of this particular Constitutional provision is working out.

Meanwhile, journalists engage in speculation about why the gunman would shoot children. Who cares why? What about crazy do we not understand? And if we knew the gunman’s reasons would it make any difference? I don’t think so.

What would have made a difference is if the gunman had not had easy access to automatic weapons meant for killing lots of people quickly.
 
In a dissent in the Supreme Court’s Heller case, Justice Stevens, joined by Justices Souter, Ginsberg, and Breyer, engaged in legal analysis that sensibly construed the Second Amendment:

The Amendment’s text does justify a different limitation: the “right to keep and bear arms” protects only a right to possess and use firearms in connection with service in a state-organized militia. Had the Framers wished to expand the meaning of the phrase “bear arms” to encompass civilian possession and use, they could have done so by the addition of phrases such as “for the defense of themselves”.

Those who favor gun control urge immediate action to try to avoid future tragedies like the one in Connecticut, and the many other places whose names now are identified with this horror.

 Those who uphold unlimited “gun rights” send their condolences to the families and urge prayer.

God helps those who help themselves. I’m asking my legislators and President to put an end to unlimited rights for those who would use guns for domestic terrorism or senseless violence.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Safer in Cuba, Israel, or anywhere else than in the U.S.?


Yesterday I was worrying about my adult son who is leaving for a trip to Cuba and my daughter-in-law who after Christmas is leaving for a trip to Israel. Both places I considered less than “safe”. Silly me.

My son and daughter-in-law, with our two beautiful grandchildren, live less than fifty miles from the place where a young man, well armed with legally purchased weapons, walked into a grade school and randomly killed twenty children the same ages as my grandchildren. And also killed their teachers and staff.

Lots of articles have been written, many in the last day, about all the random shootings we have suffered through in this nation in the last few years. Some, President Obama included, also mentioned the inner city gun violence that is claiming lives of so many cut down in the prime of their lives.

That kind of gun violence is not confined to the street corners of Chicago. Nearly every day in Louisville KY, gun violence claims the lives of men, women and children. Some no doubt are involved in drugs or crimes. And some are innocent children caught in the crossfire of gun violence.

I feel largely safe from the shootings. Since I stay out of those neighborhoods.

Not so back when my oldest son was a baby and toddler. Back then I felt safe to take my toddler every day to an outstanding pre-school on 22nd street in west Louisville. He was one of two little white boys in a crowd of African American children, all of whom benefited from the outstanding caregivers at St. Benedict’s.

Now gun violence is a daily occurrence in the west end of Louisville, as it is in many large cities and even in the grade schools of bucolic Connecticut small towns.
 
All of this killing has one common denominator: guns. Enough with the “guns don’t kill people”. Or “this is not the time”.

It is the time. Guns do kill people. And far too many. No one other than trained military and law enforcement have any legitimate reason to have handguns, automatic weapons, protective gear, or anything else associated with killing people.

With all due deference to the U. S Supreme Count, they are wrong about what the Second Amendment means. It was never meant to allow gangs or lone crazies or anyone else to take innocent lives with weapons of war. Such weapons did not exist at the time the Second Amendment was adopted.

Just like the “Citizens United” decision with its topsy-turvy interpretation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, it’s clearly a travesty of legal thinking. But until the Supreme Court rethinks its interpretation their opinion is the law of the land.

So, as intelligent people we must come together and call on our elected representatives to change the law. If that takes amendments to the US Constitution so be it. In the meantime, we also must call on the President to take all actions he can take by Executive Order to put an end to the madness.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Dog Bites Man


I know—“dog bites man” is the oldest story in the book. Such that it’s not considered news. But recently it became personal. A couple of days ago our old dog bit my husband.

The reason for the bite? My husband had gently tried to wipe some of the “goop” near Schatzie’s eye. No stitches required but at least two puncture sites near the fingernails. And a throbbing redness.

As on most days, my husband had painstakingly walked Schatzie to the park at the dog’s snail’s pace. The dog can hardly walk but still thinks he should go to the park. My husband then gave Schatzie his many medications in homemade cheese balls. And then fed Schatzie a carefully crafted breakfast.  Which the dog turned his nose up at. I added more goodies to try to get our skinny dog to eat. 

You might say that the biting is excusable. After all Schatzie has dementia. And is in pain with arthritis. On his last leg, so to speak.

But that’s not really what’s going on. Biting is what Schatzie did in his prime. For example, Schatzie bit us—twice each--after we first inherited him from my Mom. It’s only in his later stages of dementia that for the most part he has forgotten his aggressive ways

My husband, bless his heart, (Please forgive the only language quirk I picked up from living in Alabama for two years. I believe it roughly translates to you are saying or doing something stupid but I’m too polite to say that.) does not blame Schatzie. Here is what he said: “Biting is the one thing that dogs can do to let the humans know they don't like what they're doing. Humans just have to show them who's the pack leader. Besides, I knew the risk going in. After all, I'd been bitten before by him doing something similar (eye drops). Could I have been more calm & assertive? Yep.”

I say my husband watches too many episodes of the dog whisperer. Biting is one behavior I don’t think is ever acceptable by dogs, at least not to their loving families. In fact, under the standard set by the several collies that have been part of our family, they would have gone farther than that on biting rules. For them, biting was never an option, save an attack on one of their family members.

Anyway, the latest is Schatzie now has idiopathic vertigo or doggy dizziness for some unknown reason.

Having four legs should be some advantage. Instead, he looks like a drunken sailor times two. When he tries to go forward and to the left, his back end lists to the right. Lots of falling, picking up, and spitting up from the associated nausea. The vet says he may get over this in a few days, learn to compensate, or this may be the end.

I don’t really know what to think. Or what to hope for.  Except I hope my husband’s bite doesn’t get infected. And I hope Schatzie stops acting like a drunken sailor and starts to “shape up or ship out.” That’s not an Alabama expression as far as I know but something my Mom use to say when as kids my brother and I weren’t doing what she expected. I just wish she were here to deal with her old dog and tell us what she would have done.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Just a Couple of Guys and a Gal


The following is a short story, “flash fiction” if you will, I wrote last summer at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival. Hope it’s a brief diversion on a cold winter’s day.


 

John, a tidy man in his 40’s, is sipping wine while chopping veggies for dinner at the kitchen island.  Jake, a straggled, over-heated man in his early thirties, sits across from John on a stool, drinking a beer.

 

John:

Jake, you know we agreed we’d use that money for the wine and cooking classes tour of Italy.

 

Jake:

Yeah, but…

 

John:

I hate it when you ‘Yeah, but’, me.

 

Jake:

Lately you seem to hate everything I do. I think you hate HER.

 

John:

I do not. It’s just time to let her go.

 

Jake:

Let her go? Let her go?

 

John:

Stop repeating yourself. You know how I hate that.

 

Jake:

I can’t say anything any more without you saying you hate it. Or her.

 

John:

I don’t hate her. She’s had a very good life. She was very beautiful. But she’s become a black hole--sucking your time and our money.

 

 

 

 

Jake:

She has not. You know I love her. And I don’t mind the time or money.

 

John:

You should be spending more of your time with me.

 

Jake:

I do spend time with you.

 

John:

Not like you used to. Every night it’s the same old thing. You sneak off…

 

Jake:

I do not sneak. You know where I’m going.

 

John:

You sneak. And you lie.

 

Jake:

That’s really unfair.

 

John:

You say you’ll only be a few minutes. An hour at most. Then hours later come crawling back home, all sweaty. And smelling of her.

 

Jake:

Well, I enjoy my time with her. And the time gets away from me.

 

John:

But the real thing is the money. That $10,000 is for our wine and cooking tour. You KNOW that.

 

Jake:

That's just what you’ve always said. I never agreed.

 

John:

Yes—you did.

 

Jake:

I did not. And besides, after the new carburetor and rods and rear end, you know—you’ll enjoy riding in her as much as I do.

 

 

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Not Dead Yet


Schatzie, our fourteen-year-old sheltie, had been looking and acting like he was on death’s doors for the last several days, or maybe it’s been weeks. Sometimes it’s hard to know how long something has been happening when you are in the midst of it.

But he now has rallied. For at least a year he has needed help most of the time just to stand. His walks have gotten to be just the short half block to the park, not the half mile he use to walk. The four steps into and out of the house have become a major barrier. One that requires assistance from one of both of his human companions.

We were thinking the end was near. What with his recent loss of appetite, struggles to stand after we help him up, and apparent disinterest in most of life.

And he may still be a short-timer. But two days ago we woke to find him curled up next to our bed, with his head comfortably tucked under the dust cover. You ask why that is peculiar. Mainly because our bedroom is up a long flight of stairs that he has not even tried to climb in months. Yet somehow two nights ago he had climbed noiselessly on his withered old back legs all the way to the second floor.  And the following day he made it around the whole half mile track, though at a snail’s pace most of the way. And then he actually bounced twice as he barked upon sighting a squirrel and his “nemesis”, a boxer who chews his iron fence whenever he sees Schatzie.

I had been wishing I could know what Schatzie is trying to say about his condition. My latest guess is he is saying, reminiscent of the scene from a Monty Python movie, “I’m not dead yet.”

Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Dog's Life


My dog is near his end. Most of the time he can’t stand without help. He can’t walk up or down stairs without his human companions supporting him. And he has dementia. Some days he doesn’t seem to know us, doesn't want to eat. But other days he has the joy of life in his eyes. And he often has the joy of smell, his one sense that seems to still be working well. 

Helping to lift him is not helping my old spine and painful arm. But at least there are options for me. Not so much for Schatzie and his multiple problems. We've changed up his meds,  and consulted with the good dog doctors. We talk about quality of life, whether he is in pain. And what to do about him if he manages to live until Christmas and we take our Christmas trip.
The real problem is I hate having the power, or is it the responsibility, of deciding when he’s had enough.

In every previous case with a beloved dog when we made the final decision I knew in retrospect I probably had waited too long. But how to know that when you are making the decision eludes me. I wish I really could channel Schatzie's voice now and know what he is thinking.


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

An Update


As you may have noticed Dear Readers, if any of you are still out there, I’ve not written much since rotator cuff surgery in September. Seems as my shoulder has improved, my right arm has continued to hurt worse. Eventually I had an MRI of my neck. The good news is twofold. First, the MRI and my symptoms are consistent: extensive spinal arthritis is causing the pain. (Anyone who knows me knows I like to be consistent.) Second, I have way too much arthritis in my spine to think about having surgery.

I know--that sounds a little crazy to count as good news. But such is life as one gets older.

They are referring me to a pain clinic to try to deal with the arm pain.  I think that means they’re going to suggest injections in my spine like I had some years ago before I had a previous spinal surgery. I just don’t want the injection that includes the fungus cocktail. As one gets older the humor gets darker. Or maybe my humor has always been dark.

The bottom line is I can’t type much without making my symptoms worse. I’m working on dictating instead of typing. But a lot of this is posture related to sitting in front of a computer, not just the use of my hands. So we’ll see how well my life as a “dictator” works out.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A Modest Proposal

Another shooting incident. An enraged, delusional or just angry spouse killing his wife and her co-workers and other innocent bystanders. It just happened this past week. But that does not make for an unusual week.

Meanwhile we have male candidates for the United States Senate who state they will outlaw abortion even in the case of rape. Either because pregnancy does not result from rape because of miraculous female powers. Or because the pregnancy is “God’s will.”

 The latest bozo to make this type of proclamation, Murdoch in Indiana, says he has struggled to come to this conclusion about God’s will.  I suppose his thinking process has been a struggle. But I don’t imagine he has struggled as much or in the same way as a woman pregnant from rape has struggled.

I have no problem with Murdoch or Todd Aiken, the Missouri candidate who believes in miraculous sperm-killing vaginas, having their own opinions. Or their religious beliefs of any kind. So long as their beliefs do not impact other folks who do not have the same beliefs. I do have a problem with them trying to impose their non-science-based opinions on the rest of us.

Meanwhile, men have been running the United States for its entire history. And men have overwhelmingly been in control of most governments around the world since men began to write history. I know, that’s why it’s called “his story.”

Think about the facts. Helen of Troy notwithstanding, men start wars. Gun violence in this country overwhelming is propagated by males. Most violent crimes, rape, murder and mayhem, included, are perpetrated by men.

Men are about ten times more likely than women to commit murder. According to Bureau of Justice Statistics homicide trends (1976-2005), the vast majority of murders (felony, 93.2%: sex related,93.6%; drug related, 95.5%; workplace 91.3%; gun homicides, 91.%; multiple victims, 91.5%; multiple offenders, 91.6%) are committed by men. Rapes, violent robberies, assaults and mayhem overwhelmingly are committed by men.

When is the last time you read or heard of a disgruntled 58 year old “loner” female who decides to go on a gun shooting spree? Or a 20 year old schizophrenic woman shooting up a mosque, a movie theater or a market filled with families?

Occasionally a new mother with post-partum depression goes off the deep end and tries to kill herself. Maybe even her child. But she doesn’t try to take out the whole neighborhood. And violent women of any stripe are still an anomaly.  Despite some claims of a phenomenon of increasing numbers of “mean girls,” factual analysis demonstrates crime and violence among girls has plummeted. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/02/opinion/02males.html?_r=1

And also consider this factoid:  men are no longer necessary to the continuation of the human species.  Greg Hampikian, a professor of biology, and, incidentally, also of criminal justice, asks, “...does ‘mankind’ really need men?” His answer to that question is a resounding “no.” However, without women our species would be a goner. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/25/opinion/men-who-needs-them.html As the author points out, women not only are “necessary but sufficient for reproduction, and men are neither.”

So why are men making most of the decisions for the entire human population? Why are they toting the guns, deciding whom to bomb, and when and how to go to war?

Not for any rational reason. Women would be much more judicious in their use of force if statistical and past behavior is any predictor. Women also are more likely to look out for the family, the community, the rest of our species.

Consider a few examples. Women who are given control of family finances put their families, not their self interest first.  For example, in third world countries where families are living in extreme poverty, it’s not uncommon for many of the men to squander the little money they have on alcohol or drugs rather than food and education for their families.

I doubt Nicholas Kristof ever  advocated giving loaded guns to women. Nevertheless, he has written of a number of cases in which a family’s prospects turn around when women, given micro-loans or participate in micro-savings, are suddenly in charge of the family’s finances.

In an example he gives from Pakistan, a woman, whose husband had spent the family savings on narcotics and regularly beat her, started a number of businesses, one of which employed her husband. She then bought a home, and “put some of her children through high school — and a son, the brightest student, through college. She has just paid $5,800 for a permit for him to move to London to take a health sector job.” http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/14/opinion/14kristof.html

In a Kenya slum, where some estimate one third of the men spend what would feed and finance their children’s schooling, instead get drunk every night, a mother forced into prostitution by the husband who took a younger wife, turned her family’s prospects around by starting a sewing business. She then bought her family a small home and kept her two daughters and son in school where they excelled. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/15/opinion/kristof-sewing-her-way-out-of-poverty.html

You may think these are just anecdotes. But science supports that women’s responses to stress are not the same “fight or flight” often attributed to our species. Women’s responses instead appear to be “tend and befriend.”  And that difference is based in female vs. male biology.


Women are inherently more concerned, both through body function and hormones (oxytocin creates bonding) with the greater good, protection of the family, the community and the species.

As the scientists found:

“…oxytocin, one of a cascade of hormones released in response to stress, appeared to play a central role in females’ response. Studies have linked oxytocin, which is produced during childbirth and nursing, both with maternal behavior and with social affiliation. And animals and people with high oxytocin levels, researchers have found are calmer, more social and less anxious.”

So why should women allow men to continue to call the shots, literally and figuratively? My modest proposal is that all weapons and decisions on dangerous armaments be handed over to the “fairer” sex around the world.

No, I’m not advocating women shoot all the men. Or that all women have guns. Rather my proposal is that women collectively take over control of weaponry. Together they can delegate gun toting and other weapons control and decisions to calm, trained peace officers. All of whom will be female.

The next time a man beats his wife, rapes a woman, or tries to start a war, a woman will be in control of the weapons, whether that means holding the  gun to bring the offender to justice or having their finger on the red button as the peace is negotiated.

I know this sounds a tad like an early “Star Trek” episode. The one where William Shatner is surrounded by beautiful Amazon women who have locked away most of the men and turned them into helpless slaves kept for the she-leader’s amusement and sexual gratification.

Locking away the men is not what I’m proposing.  The men in charge currently have done a good enough job of that to a disproportionate number of their own kind. I’m just suggesting men no longer be in control of weaponry. They have amply demonstrated many of them are not suited to the responsibility.

So next time weapons are to be wielded who do you want doing the wielding, someone with testosterone, the hormone often associated with aggression, coursing though his bloodstream in response to stress? Or a woman who is more likely to have oxytocin predominating in response to stress?

By the way, we may need biometric controls on the weaponry so that only females or persons with a preponderance of oxytocin are able fire that weapon.

NOTE: The author would not choose a world without men. She has many wonderful men in her life, including a loving husband of so many years she has lost count, two beautiful, strong and intelligent grown sons, a handsome and talented grandson (not to mention a beautiful and smart granddaughter) and also an amazing brother whom she is proud to call a best friend. I haven’t asked them, but I suspect they all would be happy to turn over any gun-toting obligations to responsible women.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Metamorphosis





Waking up after rotator cuff surgery is like nothing I’ve experienced. The doctor had told me I was a good candidate for the surgery. No major health issues. Otherwise strong and hearty. “Piece of cake,” he’d said, compared to other surgeries I’ve had: hysterectomy, and not the minimally invasive kind. Spinal surgery—that was the minimally invasive kind.

I’d also had bi-lateral carpal tunnel releases and a right elbow tendon release. Are you beginning to see a pattern here? Had I not listened when my mom said to go sit quietly with my hands folded in my lap? Actually she had never said that. It was my grade school nuns. And I guess I did not listen. Or else my body is just determined to wear out faster than a Fiat in the early days of manufacture. Maybe that’s it. When they were doling out tendons, muscles and spinal what-nots I got lemon parts. The bottom line though is I’ve had a few surgeries. Some major. And even some where I had to adjust to single-handed and left-handed living. So why did the recovery from rotator cuff surgery seem so different?

First, is the waking up feeling like a cockroach, on its back. Ah, Kafka must have had this surgery.

Strapped to my right arm was a contraption I’ll call it. That included a sling, which I’d expected. But Velcro-ed to the sling was an oblong pillow, with a blue tennis ball at the end. What’s up with that? Was that to tantalize me so I’d be motivated to follow instructions and recover enough to hit a killer overhead serve? Or was that the Doc’s “get even”? I’d made some bad joke on the way to the operating room about my overhead serve. Doc must not have thought it funny. OK. I’ve never had a killer overhead serve. Mostly I just tried to lob it over the net. And not in a long, long time.

Back to the contraption connected to my arm and upper body. Straps around my neck, around my waist and everywhere else. The pre-surgery instructions had said bring a big, loose shirt. I brought a men’s XL dress shirt. That was not big enough to put the sling-contraption through. So it sort of draped over my shoulders, with no bra underneath. Luckily I was sufficiently drugged I didn’t really care. But when I woke up enough to realize how I was dressed I was a bit horrified.

And then I realized the contraption, if I kept it on 24-7 as directed by the Doc’s instructions, would not allow me to actually cover my chest unless I resorted to a Halloween ghost costume:  a sheet with a head hole cut in it. We experimented with cutting up some of my husband's old t- shirts. They left big gaps. But they had the advantage of being in style as “oversized boyfriend wear.” Finally I could say I was on trend.

Then there were all the other rules. My husband had listened carefully to post-op instructions. While I had laid in a stupor of drugs after the surgery. I was supposed to always have my hand higher than my elbow. Except for the three times a day I was supposed to bend over and swing my arm like a pendulum. And my shoulder was supposed to always be at least at a 30 degree angle.

So I was supposed to sit in a recliner which created the correct angles and support. But the recliner was designed for a right-hander, with the handle on the right side. With the contraption on my right hand and upper body, my left hand could not come close to reaching the handle. And though I have reasonably long, strong legs, with the contraption and significant pain (did I mention the pain?) I could not maneuver the recliner open or closed. Of course, my husband was willing to assist but that meant he could not leave the room in case I needed to get out of the chair, say at any time over the night. Which is where the instructions suggested I sleep.

At some point I discovered I could hop out of the open recliner and then hop back in. the instruction sheet did not have any prohibitions on hopping. But I imagine that's only because they had not thought of it. 

So why was I so poorly prepared for this cockroach-like existence after surgery? Well, for one thing I had thought I was only having a bone spur near my rotator cuff removed. Not a tear in the cuff itself repaired. I had been experiencing pain in my right shoulder for over four years.

Here’s how it began. Several years ago, on a fateful, fall day I was walking our two dogs and they both spotted squirrels to chase. In different directions. I’d gone to the Doc who dutifully examined my shoulder and listened to my tale. And recommended an MRI. Since my insurance had changed to, what is it you call the Cheapskate Plan? Oh, “consumer-driven”.

So as the consumer, driven by cost-saving, I decided I knew better than the orthopedic specialist whether I needed an MRI. Instead of an MRI I consented to the much cheaper x-ray. Which showed a large bone spur sitting right next to my rotator cuff.

I tried cortisone shots, physical therapy, new dog leashes, and a lot of aspirin. Nothing made the pain go away. After about four years of consumer-driven cost-savings, I opted for surgery to remove the bone spur, not knowing the spur, plus dog pulling, already had torn my rotator cuff.

So I went into the surgery, as a result of my own stupidity, ill-informed of the extent the surgery, the pain, or the recovery would ultimately involve. The pain I’ve been able to handle much better than I’m handling the contraption.

I’m grateful the Doc was able to fix the cuff at the same time he removed the spur. I just wish he had told me about how awkward and uncomfortable the contraption would be. And that his office had provided some post surgery clothing guidance that did not leave me as uncovered as women who get paid to show off their chests.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

But I May Be: Over the Hill, That Is

Sorry for the silence from here. I've been working on left-handed typing, and all things one-handed. Following rotator cuff surgery this week.

I promise a complete report on latest developments as soon as I master some one-left-hand techniques.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY:Did you know left-handers are the last minority still discriminated against with virtual impunity?

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Not Yet Over the Hill


Bob Dylan is as much a part of the background music of our life as any musician. He regularly plays on our iPods, satellite radio, computers, and even on old-fashioned record albums in vinyl or on CD. On Sunday night we saw Bob Dylan perform at the PNC Pavilion in Cincinnati. Hearing his music and vocals on any of those media does not match his live performance.

But first, I must mention the icon, Leon Russell, who to the delight of the crowd, opened for Dylan. Russell energetically sang and played piano from his extensive repertoire.

Unfortunately, the PNC Pavilion suffers from acoustic problems and Russell’s excellent renditions were muffled by the time they reached us back in section 202. We have experienced the same musical muffling at this venue with a variety of other musicians. The sound seems to improve only outside the Pavilion, near the restrooms where you can no longer see the stage.

Dylan and his band were in good voice and performed with enthusiasm and clear sound. Dylan even sang with a surprisingly clear, non-guttural voice.  The highlight of Dylan’s 17 song performance, including one encore, for me was “Blind Willie McTell.”  My husband, a true Dylan fanatic, while also happy to hear “Blind Willie,” thought other highlights were “Visions of Johanna” and the revised lyrics to “Tangled Up in Blue.” He, and much of the crowd also relished shouting “No” when Bob sang, “You think I’m over the hill. You think I’m past my prime.” Indeed with Bob’s posturing and prancing throughout he proved he was neither.

The crowd was the usual Dylan-mix of aging baby boomers and young folks, who gave every indication of enjoying the show. But one baby boomer, gray-haired and attired in casual, yet dapper clothes, caught my eye in the midst of all sorts of behaviors and dress. Apparently he simply was unable to contain his dance steps while the music was playing. At one point, the gentleman, while standing in the wide corridor in front of our section was asked by security to return to his seat. Channeling Gene Kelly, without the rain or umbrella, he gracefully danced his way back to his row.

Dylan’s sound technicians evidently have mastered the acoustical challenges at the Pavilion. His performance was excellent, with none of the muffled, shushy sounds we have heard previously. I only wish the PNC Pavilion sound technicians would find out Dylan’s solution so in the future other performers too might avoid the annoying muffling sounds associated with that venue.

Dylan, singing and playing the harmonica, was joined by the McCrary Sisters, four female vocalists, as he ended with “Blowing in the Wind.”

All told, the evening was a delightful way to remind yourself just how talented Dylan, the so-called “Prophet of his generation,” actually is. We had a “whoppin’ good time.”


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Not a Crotchety Doctor But Still Brilliant


So here is the first follow-up to how we were surprised by two of our “family room acquaintances.”

We’ve had Hugh Laurie on our TV so often over the past few years as Dr. Gregory House on the now-ended TV show named for the crotchety, but brilliant medical diagnostician that we hardly expected him to sing or play music. So it was a delightful surprise to hear how well he sounded when we heard him perform.

Friday night we saw and heard Hugh Laurie and the Copper Bottom Band, his six person back-up, perform New Orleans-style jazz and old-time music. What a treat. Laurie demonstrated not only his musical and vocal talents but also comic timing and the ability to captivate a live audience for well over two hours on stage at the Singletary Center at UK in Lexington Ky.

The stage was set as if it were your Great Aunt Nelly’s living room.  With lamps covered by shades askew, cloths draped over the pianos and tables, and an old-fashioned chandelier, you immediately felt as if you were in Nelly’s living room. That is, along with a few thousand of your closest friends and family.

Laurie sang, played piano and guitar. He was supported by a vocalist, an upright bass player, a percussionist who gave a fair impression of a one-man band, a keyboard player, as well as one musician, who, in Laurie’s words, played “blowy instruments” and another who played all manner of “plucky instruments.”  The music brought the audience members to their feet numerous times in delight.

Laurie also told tales of his motorcycle ride earlier that day from L’avul (the only time he departed from his native British accent) to Lexington, complete with a wrong turn where he found himself in a self-storage complex with gates that locked behind him. He credited his escape to the motorcycle dealer in the audience who had lent him the Harley.

Laurie also delighted the audience with reminiscences of his piano lessons as a child. Lessons focused primarily on posture and practices of songs “intended to destroy” any child’s incipient love of music. Except for one song, “Swanee River” which the teacher decided to skip. Thank goodness Laurie and his band did not make the same mistake. They rocked a wicked boogie-woogie version to the sold-out crowd.

If you have an Aunt Nelly in Louisiana who invites world class musicians to her parlor by all means skip Hugh Laurie’s tour. Otherwise, check out the tour’s schedule and get to the next performance anywhere near you. That’s as close as you will get to having Hugh Laurie and his world-class band perform in your living room.

You can read in Laurie’s own words about his inspiration to immerse himself in the music of the American south at http://hughlaurieblues.com/about.htm

 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Couple of Familiar Faces


When someone regularly is in your family room you tend to take them for granted. Then when you see them out and about you may either remember, or discover, just how talented they are. In the next two posts I will tell about two concerts by  performers whom I recently saw with fresh eyes.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Time for a Change: Pink Paws Anyone?


It’s been over fifteen years since we redecorated. OK. Closer to twenty. The love seats in the living room are fraying and starting to remind me of an old person’s house.  Where they have such old, out-of-date styles and worn furniture that you know they never invite company and don’t really look at their surroundings any more. Or maybe they just can’t see and don’t really care. 

So we began the big redecorating event. Before I even get to the pink paint paw prints all over, let’s just say it has been an adventure.

First getting fabric samples for the love seats. Endlessly.  

Phase1: I had this idea of Hawaiian prints. We lugged home and looked through fabric samples of tropically-themed prints. Seemed like a good idea. In this digital age it also seemed someone should be able to show us photos of what our love seats would like covered in splashy tropical prints. I sure didn’t want to repeat my late ‘70’s decorating fiasco of orange mushroom wallpaper all around the kitchen.  

I found a design store that employed a youngster who said she could send me photos of what our love seats would look like. Only problem was it took her about two weeks to respond to my emails. And then my emails to her started to be “postmaster returned.” I guess she did not survive employment in the brutal world of decorating design. And her employer was not any more adept than she had been. We were not ready to start all over again with another clueless youngster. 

Phase 2. I looked online at photos of couches in tropical prints. Thank goodness. What a disastrous decorating idea that would have been. Big splashy floral prints all over two matched love seats, totally covered in fabric. I quickly filed that idea with the rejects.  

Phase 3. More fabric books, this time in neutrals. Directly from an upholstery re-covering store. Or maybe it’s us who are recovering, as they say about other types of mental and physical problems. Nevertheless, we decided we would do our own design work and save money. And we didn’t need to wait two weeks for comments from someone who was likely to be fired next week. Three trips back and forth with fabric samples and we settled on a fabric. The couches were picked up.  

The living room now was nearly empty and it was time to get on with the painting. Also time to pick paint colors.  I bought a few accent pillows and silk flowers to help select a wall color. Time for everything else in the living room to be packed away. Soon the painting would begin.  

You may think now is time you will learn clever tricks on how to decorate with painted paw prints? But no. You have to wait for the mauve paint for that part of the story. We picked a neutral wall shade for the living room. The painting stage had begun. 

But it is time to tell you more about the dog, an aging sheltie.  Like any sensible senior citizen who likes his house undisturbed, he was not happy with the redecorating. And that’s not surprising. His hearing is shot. Or else his dementia has reached the stage he no longer responds to verbal cues. His eyesight too is pretty much gone. And his hips are weak. But his one good sense, smell, is still working. And he could smell trouble. So he responded with his only real remaining communication method to show his displeasure. He christened the living room carpet. Oh well, the carpet needed a good cleaning too. 

Final phase. Do something with the dining room. Two decades ago when we bought our house, the living room and dining room were decorated with the help of a designer with a vision. Vast sweeps of mauve in different tonal depths, strips of floral wallpaper to highlight, and swaths of busy floral fabrics in mauve with blue undertones were the essence of that designer’s vision. And in his defense I should say mauve was sort of in style. And we had no clue what we wanted.  

Now I knew I wanted anything but mauve. But here we were in the dining room that had sort of matched the living room.  With the busy, florally-mauve window toppings and wallpaper trim, mauve walls that were old, faded and especially dirty from several dogs over the years taking the dining room as their favorite sleeping spot. The latest dog being the elderly sheltie who refused to sleep anywhere but on the hardwood floor of that room, with his back against the deep mauve wall. At least he is mostly blind and can’t be blamed for choosing this as his bedroom. 

After months of agonizing over redecorating the living room, we had forgotten about the need to make some selections for the dining room.  The painter had practically been living with us for the last month. He could strip the wallpaper and spend another few weeks painting coat upon coat of new paint over the old, dark mauve to lighten up the room. But then we’d also need to do something different with the windows. And I haven’t even mentioned how long it took to select and order window toppings for the living room. We decided in ten minutes to just re-paint the dining room mauve. After all, how often did we entertain? And the dog would only be kept out of his favorite room one day and night. Or so we thought. 

I was making some banana bread in the kitchen when the cry went up. “Quick. Catch the dog!”  The painter had not yet started painting. So no barriers were up. He had just placed the paint tray with the light mauve on the floor. The dog could not stand without assistance. Or so we thought. What were the chances the aging dog would get in the paint?  Well, the odds are really irrelevant when it happens.  

Luckily, three aging adults (the painter, my husband, and I) were faster than one aging sheltie. We caught him before he hit the carpet.  

At first we thought some wet paper towels would clean the paint off his paws. After we tried wet paper towels and released the dog, he was still leaving pink paw prints everywhere. Have you ever noticed how close light mauve is to pink? Well, it is on hardwood floors.  My long-suffering husband scooped the dog up and deposited him in the yard. After thoroughly hosing and wiping the dog’s paws, and seeing the water finally run clean we let the dog dry outside.  The painter mopped up the tracks.

Thereafter, a baby gate closed off one door to the dining room. And a large buffet chest on wheels blocked the other entrance. The dog paced. 

As promised, however, the painting was quickly completed. And our sheltie finally settled down. That night when we went to look for the dog to help him get up and go out for his nightly yard visit, to our surprise, he again somehow had defied our expectations. He had maneuvered his way into what we now call “the mauve room” and was lying in his favorite spot up against the wall. But it was no problem. As the painter had promised, this was quick-drying paint.

We all are glad we had gone with one coat, even if it is mauve. I think our re-decorating is finished for 2012. Probably we also are finished with redecorating for the rest of this decade and the next. By then, if we are still around, we will be in our 80’s and no longer care. And, who knows, maybe mauve will be back in style.




Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Three Nights of Music




Kris Kristofferson, Jackson Browne, and Keltricity. We enjoyed listening in person to all three on three magical nights in the past few days.

Kris, at Iroquois Amphitheater, Thursday night to a huge, (and please forgive me) with a largely old-timer crowd like myself.  Keltricity on Friday night to a small gathering in an intimate room of The Bards Town. And Jackson Browne Sunday night at the Kentucky Center.

Kris, who for at least half a century has been writing and performing intelligent and now iconic songs, at the same time sustaining an extensive acting career, appeared on stage alone with a guitar and harmonica.

The five musicians in Keltricity, in contrast, called on not only their voices, but guitar, violin, keyboard and accordion as well as other instruments. As the group’s name implies, Keltricity performs Celtic music. But much more as well, including a diverse sampling of other genres to which their voices and instruments are well suited. Lively contra dance music, slow waltzes, and even French Canadian tunes were part of their offerings.  

Jackson Browne, like Kris, apparently is billed as performing solo acoustic. However, for Jackson that means electric guitars, piano and at least two to five musicians as back up. Jackson joked the solo acoustic billing merely means he can do whatever he wants.  

By far the biggest production of the three musical nights, Jackson Browne at the Kentucky Center, at least as seen and heard from a balcony box, was polished and yet laid-back. And to my subjective ears, Jackson has the sweetest voice of the lot. Though the vocalists in Keltricity and also Sara Watkins, who opened for and sang with Browne, were beautiful in their own rights. Sara Watkins described in the program as “offer(ing) both sweetness and a certain swagger” deserves special mention for her vocals and fiddle-playing.

Kris, at least a decade older than any of the other singers, shows his age, but in a good way, the craggy face and lean frame still handsome.  Though I wonder whether his performance might be enhanced a bit by a solo acoustic performance as Jackson Browne defines it, with an occasional back-up musician or singer.  

Kris performs his repertoire of love and break-up songs, now with a wink and nod to his age. For example, following the lyrics, “I don’t care what’s right or wrong,” in “Help Me Make It Through the Night”, with a “Yes I do.” 

While Jackson may always have had a sweeter voice, Kris had the greater pull on the audience. The Kris crowd largely kept a hushed silence except for cheering and standing ovations. In contrast, the Jackson Browne crowd, almost to the point of heckling, continued to shout out requests and even questions about the no-photo rules of the Kentucky Center.  

Kris now sounds most convincing on “Why Me Lord?” as he intones the gospel-like lyrics asking how did he come to deserve all the blessings he has known. I suspect it was a lot of hard work combined with a prodigious dose of talent. True for all the musicians we recently had the pleasure of seeing and hearing in person.