Monday, March 29, 2010

Why I Oppose School Vouchers

I've been discussing school vouchers with a former classmate. He thinks that parents should be given the state dollars for their children's education to spend as they see fit (full tuition for public school, part-tuition for private school, or home-schooling.)

I agree with him that schools need to be improved. But I disagree that school vouchers will improve anything, except possibly the cashflow of parents who already have their children enrolled in private schools.

We both read a report that featured the voucher experiment in New Zealand.

I read it as a study of the problems resulting from the experiment. He read it as a study of successes.

I'm hoping for useful comments.

My stand on schools is that smaller class size results in better learning.
If dollars that would have gone to public schools are redirected to private schools, then public schools have less money and therefore fewer teachers and larger class sizes.

I also believe that schools should concentrate on teaching children how to learn, rather than teaching to the test. Put anything you want on the test. Then give the kids access to a library and the internet, and laboratory equipment and tools so they can discover / develop the answers.

The one positive result I've read about from vouchers is that middle class families can afford to send their children to private schools if their tuition is subsidized by the voucher money.

I'd rather see children of all cultures and income levels learning together. One of the functions of school is socialization. If children only learn to socialize with others of their own income bracket, they are missing out on a major opportunity to understand their world.

My former classmate thinks I'm being anti-rich. He and I both went to the same public school. How did we learn such different things? Our answers can be tested. And I think they have been tested in the New Zealand schools. Apparently these results are not definitive. What more is needed?

We all want better schools. We want the next generation to increase prosperity for all, and keep the lights on.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Inventing Ritual

As Passover approaches, I find myself questioning many of the rituals. We say that we recline, but we sit in our normal dinner chairs. We tell stories about the four sons, even though in my family neither my sister, nor my brother nor I had sons. And the story isn’t one I would want to tell a son if I had one.

The story tells parents how to answer questions about Passover from four types of sons: wise, wicked, simple, and one who does not know how to ask. It is considered WISE if the son asks what are the commandments for the Passover. It is considered WICKED if the son asks, “What does this drudgery mean to you?” It is considered SIMPLE if the son asks, “What’s this?” And the one who does not know how to ask, asks nothing.

I never understood why it is considered WISE to ask what the commandments for Passover are. The phrasing of such a question implies that the child is old enough to know how to read, and could have read the story of Exodus for himself before the Passover meal.

It is even more strange to consider the thoughtful question: “What does this drudgery mean to you?” as WICKED. This is a question that invites a thoughtful answer. The child sees the rituals as drudgery, rather than an act of love. But he’s not ruling out the possibility that they have value. A WICKED child might say, “I have no respect for your rituals and I don’t care what they mean to you. I’m going to bring leavened bread into the house and eat it on front of you all week long.”

“What’s this?” is really the same question as “What does this (act of drudgery) mean to you?” This is yet another son who didn’t bother to read Exodus before coming to dinner. It’s not that long a story. These days you can even find illustrated versions on the web.

And the child who does not ask – he might simply be so trusting that whatever his parents do is okay with him. All he needs to do is listen to the telling of the story of the Exodus, which is the main event of the meal. He feels no need to ask. He trusts that his parents will tell him what he needs to know, when he needs to know it.

I can see no purpose to telling this ritual story, so I won’t be telling it this year, even though I do now have a grandson who is old enough to ask questions, but does not yet know how to read. I see the point in telling the story of the Exodus. I see no point in telling about 4 sons whom I have never met, none of whom seem WISE or WICKED to me.

I have often wondered where such odd rituals come from.

At a recent meeting of local dramatists, I heard a story about the origin of a new ritual – throwing water out the window.

The ritual was invented at a dramatists meeting. These dramatists wanted to create a new ritual to help people get rid of thoughts, feelings, parts of their past, that they no longer wanted in their lives. Their solution was to have every person in the group symbolically pour water from a pitcher into a bowl. When everybody was done, the leaders pours the water in the bowl out the window. Some of the participants in this ritual liked it enough that they have repeated it on their own.

These same questions could be asked about this new ritual.

Since I know the story of the water throwing ritual, I don’t need to ask questions. But anybody seeing it for the first time, might be curious. We all have different ways of showing our curiosity. We all have different levels of desire to participate in rituals.

It just seems to be something humans like to do. There’s no need to classify that as WISE or WICKED.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Morality of Morality Tests

About 25 years ago I was asked to participate in a study of morality with questions like this:

Here's a moral scenario:

A man is sitting near the side of the road when he sees a truck speeding along. It is headed towards a group of five men, who do not hear or see it, and if nothing appears in the road, it will certainly hit and kill them. Across the road is another man sitting in front of his house. If the man who is sitting by the road calls out to the man by his house and says 'come here,' the man will walk into the road in the path of the truck, be killed, and stop it from continuing on toward the five, saving them. If the man sitting by the road says nothing, the truck will travel on and kill the five. The man decides to call out so the one man is killed and the five men are saved.

Did the man do something wrong? Take a second and rate his behavior on a five point scale, with 1 being "morally impermissible" and 5 being "morally virtuous".

There were other situations, like train tracks where the man had the ability to throw a switch and move the train from a track in which he would kill 5 to a track on which he would kill one. In this scenario, it was mentioned that the one man was on a track that he knew was never used, and the 5 were on a track that was frequently used.

I refused. I thought the situation made no sense. And it bothered me to be asked to choose who lives and who dies in a hypothetical situation. I do not want to make such a choice unless it is absolutely necessary.

Why are five men sitting in the street?

If one man can see /hear / feel the truck approaching, why can’t the others?

If the one man across the street can hear the aware man, why can’t the other 5?

If the driver will stop after hitting one man, what would he do if that man threw his shoe and hit the windshield?

Why wouldn’t the man who is called into the street, look both ways before crossing?

How does the aware observer know that the truck driver has no breaks?

No horn?

No ability to swerve off the road and avoid the men?

If the one man who does know the truck is approaching thinks that killing one person is better than killing five, then why doesn’t he jump into the roadway himself?

Now, Linda Abarbanell and Marc D. Hauser of Harvard University, have published a paper entitled Mayan morality: An exploration of permissible harms

in which they record answers to this and other morality questions, provided by rural Mayans, and postulate moral cultural aspects of this Mayan population.

I discussed this paper with a girlfriend. She thought maybe the 5 men in the road were blind and deaf. Even blind and deaf people could feel the vibration in the road from an approaching truck.

She thought maybe the blind and deaf men couldn’t tell the difference between a truck and a large beast. Either way, I think they’d want to get out of the road.

Is this really a study of omission and commission, as is the stated intention? With all these unspoken variables and unknowns, I don’t see any clear calls.

I also doubt that Mayan rural culture is different from urban American culture. Most humans would say that the 5 men who chose to sit in the road were taking their chances, possibly playing chicken. And the man on the sidewalk, minding his own business, willing to come help if called, is playing it safe. I think in any human culture, an observer does not have the right to kill the man playing it safe in order to save the 5 who are taking an unnecessary risk.

Accidents happen because we don’t have all the facts.

This situation reminds me of a morality test for 3-year-olds. If a 3-year-old is asked which child did the worse thing: a child helping his mother wash the dishes and accidentally drops and breaks 5 of them, or a child who is angry and throws and breaks one dish, a 3-year-old will pick the child who broke 5 as having done something worse, because he broke more dishes.

A better test of morality would involve realistic situations. I find myself wondering why any rural Mayans were willing to spend their time answering these questions. And what sort of people approved these questions as valid for a study of morality?

I have a new question: what is the morality of asking people to fictionally kill their neighbors?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Free Meditation Classes

I love meditation. About 30 years ago, I learned to meditate as part of my yoga classes. I meditated once a week at the end of class. Then the teacher mentioned that we didn’t need to be in a class. We could meditate as often as we liked, whenever and where ever we wanted.
That was too much freedom. I continued to meditate at the end of class with everybody else, and no place else.

After the class ended, my meditation ended. I felt like I was missing something. I went to the library. I couldn’t find any clear instructions. Sit quietly, with your spine straight, breathe slowly. Pick a time, preferably early in the morning. On a schedule. Once a week, once a day, it doesn’t matter. Just make a schedule.

I tried to meditate once a week, like my yoga class. Sometimes my brain went into gear. Sometimes it didn’t.

I experimented. When it was good – it was better than sex. When it was bad, it was like an argument.

I played games with my brain for about 20 years before I got the hang of it. Even one satisfying meditation every few weeks is enough to keep me going.

Then along came the internet.

I found
This website has most of what I learned in 20 years of experimenting – just download it and listen and do what they tell you. (Except, they also tell you to buy their binaural beat programs – you don’t need those. You can try the free sample if you want. You can get more free samples here:, and you can surf the web for other sites with similar programs.)

Before I found the web, I also found Sounds True, which sells an audiotape of Healthy Breathing by Ken Cohen, who is a Chi Kung master. I said this was a listing of free products. And it is.

If you download the free program Rhapsody, you get 25 free songs a month. Healthy Breathing is one of the songs they offer. This song is really a guided instruction that lasts about 75 minutes. If you want to buy it, the cost is 99 cents, but you can listen 25 times a month for free. I think once a week is plenty and a few months practice is enough to teach you the basics. You can listen that often for free.

Download Rhapsody here:

I find healthy breathing to be a core part of my meditation practice.
The only caveat here – slow breathing has become my normal breathing. When I was in the ER after being hit by a car, my slow breathing set off alarms on the monitor. The staff finally gave up and turned off the breath counting machine.

Since the accident, I found an even more useful meditation website.

This type of meditation is called mindfulness. It has its origins in Buddhism. The first website listed here describes a meditation technique that has its origins in the Hindu religion. These meditation techniques require no religious beliefs or training. These are physical and mental techniques to focus and calm the mind.

The mindfulness lessons are supposed to take 6 weeks. I've already spent 2 months on them and I'm just starting lesson 4. There are 6 lessons. I'm finding that mindfulness is the most useful of the techniques so far.

With the other techinques, if I felt an itch, I'd stop meditating and scratch the itch. With mindfulness, I can focus on the itch, explore the itch, feel where the itch is precisely, noticing if it moves.

I want to state here that meditation is not necessarily calming. It is not the same thing as a pleasant walk in the woods, or the awe one feels at a beautiful view. It is training the mind to see life in a calm way. It's hard work. It may not be your pleasure, as it is mine. But if you are curious, and have access to a computer that is on the web (you are reading this article on such a machine), it doesn't have to cost you a cent.

It will claim a significant amount of your time. I'm up at 4 AM every day to meditate. At 5 AM I do my exercises. Then I shower and eat and walk my dog before my day begins.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Children of the Body and the Mind

I have many friends who are childless. This used to be difficult because I had two children, and my childless friends were often childless by choice. They didn’t want to be surrogate aunts to my children. They wanted to spend time with the independent adult me, not shared with my rambunctious demanding children. Okay, so in some ways my childless friends were children, themselves.

At this point in our lives, it doesn’t matter. My children are grown up moved out and live far away.

But yesterday, one of these women told me that she thinks her life is nothing because she never had children. This woman has started gardens all over town. She has helped many families by being a social worker. But she has never been in love and never had children. It’s the children she says she longs for.

She says that “be fruitful and multiply” is a command. She says that Darwin’s “Survival of the Fittest” means that if she’s a worthwhile person, she’ll pass along her genetic material to the next generation.

She says she had a fantasy of a man who would love her as much as life itself and that a baby would be born from that love. For all I know this woman is a virgin. We’ve never talked about sex. Like me, she is long past menopause. But there are hormonal treatments to help restore fertility. There are sperm donors. If this is what she really wants.

She says she wants a child. A child of the body. She considers children of the body to be a spiritual experience, life’s highest achievement. The pinnacle of creativity. It’s clear she is dissatisfied with her life. I don’t know why she is focusing on biological offspring as her missing link.

I have both – children of the body and children of the mind. Both are valuable, frustrating, enjoyable. Both are responsibilities. But not one over the other. I’m a heretic here. Of course pregnancy is creating a new life. But it’s not a creative act – it’s biology. In fact, I noticed that my creative ability (mind creations) diminished during pregnancy. (Maybe the two functions are related – energy for the one was working on the other.)

Creativity – making something new – feels much more applicable to children of the mind. There is no set 9 month timetable. And the life of the child of the mind can be a moment or centuries. The mental exhilaration / satisfaction is the same. Just as a child is a child no matter how long the labor and delivery. And no matter how long the child lives, or how well the child is received by the world at large.

Whenever I think of my children, I think of the responsibility I had in raising them to be independent, kind, reliable adults. I never think – that’s my genepool – I m must be among the fit. I’d have had that same feeling if they were adopted, or if they were long term residents of my home without a legal tie. And in the grand scheme of things, they are responsible for their own lives, they have made choices since they were about 5 months old. But my children of the mind – those are truly mine.

Nobody can plan to become pregnant. Yes, each of us can decide to have sex without using birth control, at the right time of the month. But that will not guarantee a pregnancy. If there’s trouble, a person can go to a fertility clinic and take whatever drugs they suggest. But that will not guarantee a pregnancy. It’s possible to try, but nobody can actually decide to become pregnant.

If a woman does became pregnant, there is on guarantee that the baby will carry to term. If the baby is born, there is no guarantee that the child will live to adulthood and continue the genetic line. In my friend’s terms – the fittest give their genetic material to the future. Is she a failure if she does not have grandchildren? Or great-grandchildren?

In her terms, a man who commits rape and fathers a child has fulfilled his responsibility to reproduce, to bear fruit and multiply. But a woman who did not become pregnant, for whatever reasons, is a spiritual failure, a genetic reject, a wasted life.

In my terms, helping one person, even with something short term, like filling out a government form, is a child of the mind. It is a deed we can choose to perform. Even if it fails - even if once filled out the form does not achieve its purpose, the shared experience of helping another person is a true child of the mind. And the connection to another person is a spiritual experience.

I don’t believe many of us are like Emily Dickinson, able to create poems year after year without any readers. In fact, I don’t believe she had zero readers. My guess is that she had family and girlfriends read her babies and encourage her.

Some children are more exciting than others. Some children are more demanding. This is true of children of the body or of the mind. Writing a story is more fun than holding a door open.

All our children deserve our respect and honor. No life is childess.

Friday, March 19, 2010

How Local is Local Theater?

Philadelphia is near New York. The local theater community claims to be a warm-up for Broadway. One excellent play that I know of “Master Class” was developed in Philadelphia.

I have had plays performed in other cities, but never in Philadelphia. I can’t even get the local theaters to look at them.

I belong to a local playwrighting organization. I donate to local theaters. I attend local performances and readings. And suddenly, today, I felt like a hypocrite.

One of the local theaters that has a policy of never looking at local playwrights called me to ask for a donation. They have a matching grant. I have donated before. I have attended performances. Surely I would donate now.

I told the man I’ve decided not to donate to local theaters that never perform plays by local authors. This particular theater does readings as well as performances, but never by local authors.

The phone rep said that one of the other people working on this fund raiser is also a playwright. Would I talk to him? Sure.

This playwright told me that the theater is nice to him about arranging his schedule around plays he’s working on, and they sometimes loan him props. But no, they won’t look at his plays. He reminded me that this theater has playwriting classes. I told him I’d taken one, and still the dramaturgs refused to look at my work.

This man insisted that I talk to the director to make sure I was refusing to donate because I disagree with theater policy, and not because I don’t like the phone reps. I repeated my position to the director. She said she’d discuss my position with one of the dramaturgs. Then she said that the theater will be performing a couple of plays by William Shakespeare next season. I told her I don’t consider him to be a local playwright.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Why Me? Why Not Me? Part Six

This is part 6 of Alison's account of her diagnosis and treatment of bladder cancer.

by Alison

Cancer: Metaphors and Positive Thinking

I finished my last treatment two weeks ago. Everyone at the doctor’s office was so nice, lots of hugs and good wishes. Last Thursday was the first free Thursday afternoon I’ve had in two months. I went to my meditation practice group and sank into the deepest, quietest calm I can imagine.

Next comes another cystoscopy, after a month. We are supposed to take a look inside an all-white, plain, unbeautiful but oh so useful bladder. I was surprised to learn that there will be no biopsy, just a look. (There will also be urine sent to cytology.) If we do see cancer, it means the BCG treatment failed. My understanding is that if it failed, the next step is surgical removal of my bladder (and neighboring insides).

I am not particularly freaked out by that possibility. When I compare an artificial bladder and bladder opening (still somewhere due south of my belly button) to the prospect of metastases and tortuous chemo/radiation treatments, there is no contest. Bring it on – I can practice writing my name in the snow like the big fellas!

Now this is probably another example of what some people call my positive attitude. I have mentioned this before, but I wanted to elaborate on it today. I have no particular quarrel with the notion of positive attitude. I know plenty of perky people, and they are fine. I am fine with them. But I am not one of them. I am really quite a negative person. I do not know all the reasons, but surely the early onset of the illness Depression is one of them.

From about fourth grade I remember times of feeling gloomy and sad and wistful and different … for no reason. I was often, as a child, unduly irritable and at times desperately angry. I must have had sparkly good days too – there are pictures of me smiling and laughing with my family.

But I had (and have) a mood disorder that in my case is a tough nut. I take medicine, and I always will take medicine, just to feel close to normal. Without it I tend to weep uncontrollably. I also tend to become watchful and suspicious about other people and what their (surely bad) intentions toward me might be. Really, you don’t want to know me without the Miracle of Modern Medicine.

It is not a pretty sight. The disorder has cost me jobs that for a healthy person would have added up to a fruitful, long-lasting career; one of two marriages; several friendships; and many days that should have been good days and were not. It has taken the ebullience out of milestones. Say I should feel “light as a balloon in the air” after some accomplishment; what I really take away with me is what an ordeal it was and how I should have done better. It might be days or even weeks before I get over it, and I may never look back on it with satisfaction. I can say there have been times I was so depressed that, while I would not take my life, I wished someone else would.

Yet here I am, matter-of-fact and straightforward about this disease cancer. When people call my attitude “positive,” I think it is because I am not scared stiff; I do not act sick; I am not “boiled down to [my] essential animal self” as Dana Jennings characterized serious illness in his New York Times blog about prostate cancer and treatment. I am glad of all those things. I would not enjoy walking around all day scared stiff.

However – here is the catch – some day I will, unless I have my mother’s good fortune in an instant, painless (though far too early) death. I can only say I am not yet negative about this illness. And if or when the day comes that I am negative, I do not want to be told that I am failing to fight my opponent properly.

Meghan O’Rourke of Blog XX in Salon says just today that continually using tired old war metaphors about illnesses, especially cancer and AIDS, can and does keep people from just reaching out in human care and love to others. Really, hectoring sick people to keep a stiff upper lip, never give up, be courageous, fight that good fight – isn’t that kind of perverse? If or when my time comes and I want to alternately languish and droop and then cry and rail at fate, I believe my good friends will be there for me (won’t you? guys?) even if I have “given up” in their eyes. Do we really need battle metaphors to say, “She got sick. She did well for a while, then she got sicker, and later she died. We miss her” ??

We all gotta die of something. It’s gonna happen someday. And that, I believe, is what people wish they could wrestle to the ground and conquer.

Eventually Pain Free

This is a one-week update. At my last physical therapy appointment, Young PT recommended Pete Egoscue's Pain Free method. Young PT said Egoscue was badly wounded in Vietnam and went on a quest to restore his health.

Since I've worked with 3 different PTs, and I still had the sensation of a knife in my left hip socket, I was willing to try anything. The fact that Young PT's work had alleviated the pain for a few hours after several visits gave me hope. The pain doesn't have to be permanent if it can stop even for a moment -- so says my wishful thinking.

The thing is that the pain always came back. I wanted something I could do myself, something that would have longterm results.

Egoscue's system of exercises and stretches has a good reputation. I bought the DVD.

Egoscue: Pain Free Workout Series Vol. 1 and 2 (2 DVD Set)

This is a quick report. The stretches hurt. I can't do them as well as the woman on the DVD. But the coach on the DVD says repeatedly, "Total health is cumulative." And after 4 days, the knife sensation in my hip stopped. I have done the DVD for 7 days now. I have not felt that knife for 3 days. My pain level has gone down from a 10 to a 9. This is amazing. I'm sore. I still have difficulty with yoga poses like triangle and warrior. But the knife is gone! The DVDs say Pain Free on them. My husband, the alien, suggests I rename the DVDs Eventually Pain Free.

Yay! Yay! The knife is gone. Wicked old knife. Mean old knife! Yay! Yay! The knife is gone! If I have to spend 30 minutes every morning doing these exercises for the rest of my life, it will be time well spent.

As usual, if you buy from the link above, my friends at Simegen will get a commission. This is an unpaid, unsolicited endorsement.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Why the Golden Rule Doesn’t Work

When I tried to explain that I think the two thoughts responsible for most of the world’s problems are: I Want Things to be the Way I Want Them to Be, and The Rules Don’t Apply to Me, two readers commented that the Golden Rule was all we need. The implication was that I was a) being too wordy and b) trying to re-invent the wheel.

I freely admit to trying to re-invent the wheel many times during my life. But too wordy? No way! I pride myself on being succinct. I take the time to write a short message.

If I thought the Golden Rule covered the situation, I’d have said so. And, yes, my blog would have been a lot shorter.

Do Unto Others as You Would Have Others Do Unto You.

The problem is that what I want and what others want are rarely the same. As a teenager, I’d have loved it if my parents took the time to discuss philosophy with me. When I tried to discuss philosophy with my teenagers, they walked out of the room. “I don’t care about that stuff, Mom.”

I’d have loved it if my mom made spicy foreign foods. I used to tell my parents that you’d think the spice wars had never been fought for all I saw of the results. Okay, I was a rude teenager. What did my kids want? Hamburgers. With ketchup. “Why do we have to have all that weird food?”

At work, when I was an underling, I wanted a chance to try out my ideas for improving and reorganizing. Now that I’m a decision maker, I offer my employees the opportunity to try out their ideas. “No thanks. I just want to get done.”

Bottom line. Other people don’t want to be treated the way I want to be treated. They want me to read their minds and then do what they are secretly thinking. I guess, ultimately, that is what we all want. But that is impossible.

The real rule is treat other people the way they wish you’d treat them, but they aren’t going to tell you what that is, so you have to guess, and you are going to be wrong most of the time, and they are going to think you are a doofus, or worse.

Which is why I wrote the longer version. And I still maintain that most of our problems come from our perceptions and not from other people. Even when it looks like the problem is other people, it's our perceptions of those people. We can't read their minds, so we don't know what they really want.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Two Ideas That Cause Most of the World's Problems

I think I’ve figure out Two Ideas that Cause Most of the World’s Problems

1) The Rules Don’t Apply to Me
2) I Want Things to be the Way I Want Them to be

The Rules are a shorter list than the ten commandments
1) keep your word, or explain why you were wrong to give your word in the first place.
2) don’t take risks with other people’s lives or their money. And if you have responsibilities, like children in your charge, don’t take risks with your life, either. See Rule #1.
3) the hoped for ends do not justify means that are likely to cause harm to anyone. Note: this does not mean that you must accept or allow dangerous behavior on the part of others. It does mean that you should not start wars.

If you break these rules, ultimately you will suffer. That’s the reason these rules exist.

The concept of I Want Things to be the Way I Want Them to be is more subtle. It’s valuable to have goals. It’s wonderful to want to change the world. Much of what we enjoy comes from working to get what we want, to improve the world.

Then there’s the negative side.
I don’t want to be late.
I don’t want to be poor.
I don’t want to be sick, or injured or crippled, or have my family or friends in this situation, either.
I don’t want to fail, and the same goes for family and friends, but it’s okay for other people. After all, for me to win, somebody has to lose.
I don’t want my children to do X.
I don’t want those people to do Y.
I don’t want that politician to win.
I don’t want to be passed over for a promotion, my work to get a bad review, someone else to win.

Another way to say this is: I want everything to be under my control – even other people’s decisions and accomplishments.

Since this is impossible, the next choice is Do We Allow Ourselves to Become Unhappy when things don’t go our way? It feels natural. But what’s the advantage? First we didn’t get our way, and then we decided to feel awful about it. That’s two negatives. And unlike in mathematics, two negatives do not make a positive in human lives. In a way, allowing ourselves to become unhappy when we don't get our way is a violation of rule #3. We're imagining that feeling bad will bring good. It never works.

I may have missed something. I may be off track. This is my thought for the day.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Finding Coins on the Sidewalk

When I was a kid, a penny actually bought a piece of candy at the corner store. A bottle was worth 3 cents. Finding either on the sidewalk, or under a bush, was rare.

As pennies have bought less, and become worth less with their zinc sandwich filling, I’ve found more and more. Not only pennies, but nickels, dimes, quarters, and the occasional Sacagewea golden dollar.

Where I live, some practitioners of the Santeria religion believe that if they are depressed or angry, that they can clear themselves of these unpleasant emotions by throwing any change in their pockets through the air.

I’ve never asked, but I hope that the bad vibes fall off the coins as they fly through the air.

My Christian neighbors were horrified to see me picking up loose change from the sidewalks. When I asked why, they told me that you can only take the coins that land heads up. You are supposed to turn the other coins over so the next person can have them.

None of this makes sense to me. A coin on the sidewalk quickly becomes a coin in my pocket, and eventually a coin on the countertop at the local veggie shop.

Since the accident, I ride my bike more and walk less. I’ve noticed plenty of coins in the street. But I don’t usually park my bike, pick up the coins, and ride off. I just leave them there for some future pedestrian.

There are exceptions. There was a nickel downtown that sat for weeks in the street right beside parked cars where drivers could have easily retrieved it. One day, I decided that if that coin was still there, it was mine. It was.

Another time, I was stopped at a red light, and I saw several dollars worth of quarters in the gutter. I parked my bike and picked them up.

Bragging about my haul to a woman I take a class with, she laughed. She had just found a $50 bill beside a parking payment station. She said two men were staring at it, discussing if it was real, and what kind of person would just drop it if it was. She walked right up and took it. The men were dumbfounded. Picking it up had not occurred to them.

The oddest coin find I’ve had recently was picking up a Sacagewea under a pay phone. A woman near me asked, “What’s that?” When I told her, “It’s a dollar,” and held it out for her to inspect, she didn’t recognize it.

I found myself wondering if someday, we’ll have a coin free society. If we do, I’ll miss the fun of discovery.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

How a Leaky Windex Bottle cost me almost $200

I buy off-brand cleaning products. I reuse the bottles. I buy the gallon size of the clear cleaning fluid and refill the little spray bottles. I’ve been doing this for over 40 years. Never had a problem. The products work and the bottles work until the pump sprayer goes.

Last week I stepped in a puddle on the floor in front of my bathroom sink. The countertop of my vanity was wet from the water filter (Philly water tastes dreadful) to the front edge.

I hadn’t changed the filter lately. That was my most likely culprit. I disconnected the water filter and ordered a replacement over the web. That’s the first $20. The filter cost $15, but I don’t live near a store that sells them. I could take a bus to the store and back, but that would take me most of the morning, and bus fare with transfers is $2.75 each way. It’s cheaper to pay shipping over the web, and I get to keep my morning.

The filter arrived. I put it in and tried to screw the filter back into the faucet. The connection leaked. The faucet had a plastic thread that was worn out. I took the thread to the hardware store. They don’t sell the thread. The faucet company doesn’t sell the thread either. I had to buy a whole new faucet. I ordered the faucet online. Another $80, with shipping. I got a solid brass, washerless model. These things have been discontinued, so it was on sale.

PRICE PFISTER 4" 1H Lavatory Faucet CHROME

As usual, if you buy from this link, my friends at will get a commission.

While I was waiting for the faucet to arrive, another puddle appeared on the floor in front of my sink. It couldn’t be the water filter. It couldn’t be the faucet. All water was turned off to the sink.

Then I noticed that the level of the fluid in my spray bottle was much lower than it had been the day before. I put the bottle into the bathtub. Within hours, I’d discovered my culprit. The bottle leaked. Everything I'd spent up to this point had contributed nothing to solving the problem.

Yes, the filter needed to be replaced eventually. And that faucet wasn't going to last forever. But if I hadn't touched them, I wouldn't have had to replace them. Not now.

The new faucet arrived. I called the plumber. He was in awe of the heavy solid brass faucet. He said he didn’t think they made them like that any more. He showed me the only 3 moving parts. He showed me how to order replacements from the manufacturer if I should ever need them. No plastic parts. Where it matters. There was a plastic fitting under the base. And if I’d wanted the pop-up in the sink, that was plastic, but I use a screen, so I didn’t ask him to install that. I gave it to him for another client. He lay under my sink for about half an hour and I paid him $98.

I still have to replace that leaky spray bottle for my cleaning fluid. The real culprit will cost me another $1 at the dollar store. The only $1 I really needed to spend.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

It's Hard to Explain Pain

It’s hard to explain pain. It’s harder still, when the pain is not from what the medical profession sees as normal life. The thing is that I don’t live a normal life and I don’t want to.

I experience pain when I sit cross-legged on the floor. Their solution – sit in a chair. But I want to sit cross-legged on the floor.

I experience pain like a knife digging into my hip joint when I do triangle pose or warrior in yoga. Their solution – don’t do those poses. Or modify them to a narrow stance. But I want to do them the way I could before the accident.

It’s as if there a rule that if I’m not in pain doing something normal, they aren’t going to help me. Maybe they don’t know how. And then the medical professionals wonder why people like me go to alternative healing methods.

I’ve set up some yoga blocks in my hallway to make a narrow area where I can wedge my feet to their widest stance and push against the blocks, using my leg muscles. In only a week, I’ve been able to add 3 inches to my stance. If I keep at it, eventually, I hope to get my full stance again.

Yesterday in Pilates class we did an exercise called swimming. I thought it would be easy. I swim about a mile a week, wearing flippers to make my hips work harder. I thought I was doing okay with the exercise when the teacher came by and told me to turn my knee to face the floor. Huh? I thought I was doing that. She rotated my leg to show me the correct position. OUCH!

Here was something normal. Here was a minor movement. Here was something any physical therapist ought to understand. I can’t do Pilates swimming without major pain. But my PT prescription is expired. And I don’t want to fit PT into my life again. The whole point is that I want my life back.

So, here’s my radical solution. I’m going to do Pilates Swimming, even though it HURTS because it is a minor movement. There’s no way I can injure myself doing it. And I can hope that repetition will increase my range of motion, painfree motion.

This is a strange victory. I’ve found exercises that hurt in the right places. I refuse to settle for a normal life, sitting in chairs. I want my life back.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Pursuit of Happiness, Bah Humbug

When the founding fathers enunciated our rights as “Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness” they weren’t thinking clearly. Nobody pursues Happiness. It’s not a leaf blowing in the wind, or a rabbit you can chase. Happiness is an interpretation of circumstances.

Any given situation can be interpreted different ways. I love gardening and getting my hands dirty. My neighbor hates dirt so much she had her back yard cemented over. Happiness is not a generic like Life and Liberty.

The FFs did not pursue Happiness. They pursued what they valued. They valued Life, Liberty and Capitalism. They valued Independence, Education, Good Food.. They valued Good Discussions, Political Connections, The Life of the Mind. But aside from the Declaration of Independence – NOTE Independence, not Happiness, they don’t talk much about happiness.

I suggest this is because they were happy. They were doing what they loved. I’m happy when I’m doing what I love, whether it is chatting with friends, planning a lesson, fixing a problem, planting seeds, cooking a new dish, exercising or sitting quietly with my husband.

When the FFs said “Pursuit of Happiness” they may have meant, “doing what you enjoy.” I know – the poetic ring of “Life, Liberty, and Doing What You Enjoy” leaves much to be desired.

It’s more than Enjoy. It’s doing what you think is important, Doing what you think is worth doing. We all enjoy feeling that we have spent our time well.

The most common complaint I hear (aside from aches and pains) is “I wasted my time.”
How about “Life, Liberty, and Satisfying Use of Time”?

Satisfying use of time requires thought and planning. Thought and Planning are what the FFs put into writing the Declaration and the Constitution. I think it’s fair to guess that they enjoyed the process as well as the results.

Pursuing Happiness is trying to catch the results without the necessary preceding processes. It’s not possible. The FFs should have known better.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Work with the Trestler

My Iyengar yoga teacher saw me struggling to get my feet far enough apart to do triangle pose. “You need to work with the trestler.”

“What is a trestler?” It sounded like a really rough version of a physical therapist. One who wrestles. Maybe on a trestle. It sounded expensive, too. And time consuming. And where was I going to find one?

My teacher showed me to a wooden contraption that looks like a large carpenter’s horse. It’s about 7 feet long, about a meter high, has a metal bar at mid-height, and instead of triangular legs, it has vertical legs held in place with horizontal wings.

You can line up wooden blocks against the base supports until the space is narrow enough to support your widest stance. The end blocks are curved quarter rounds, so you can put your feet on them comfortably.

I needed a lot of blocks. Right after the accident, I found it difficult to get my feet 2 feet apart. Now, after nearly 8 months, I can get them 3 feet apart. With the help of the trestler, I can support part of my weight on my arms, and I don’t have to worry about balance. In about 10 minutes, I gained another 3 inches in stance.

I had tried to show my physical therapist my problems with triangle pose. He does yoga. He understands how the body does these things. He noticed that I was curving my ribcage to the side in an attempt to balance. “You’re supposed to hinge from the hip.” He suggested I narrow my stance and concentrate on correct form. With the trestler, I can work on widening my stance and on correct form at the same time.

Yes, the stretching hurts. But since I can control how much weight is on my legs and how much is on my arms, I can minimize the pain. There is a difference between good pain and bad pain. The pain of stretch and the pain of breaking past what is currently impossible.

As my yoga teacher pointed out – there is nothing we do in our normal lives that requires a wide stance. But the ability to balance in a wide stance strengthens the muscles and joints we use to make turns in other sports. The hip hinge behaves differently at different angles. It’s easier to get the feet farther apart if I lean forward. Or if I bend my knees. Triangle requires straight legs and a straight trunk.

The restriction in my hips does not interfere with sex. It interferes with triangle pose and warrior poses. And sitting crosslegged. If I didn’t do yoga, it would be possible to have this injury and not even know what I’d lost.

Here’s a website with photos showing somebody working with a Trestler.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Slow to Learn

Most mothers worry when their children are late to sit up, or late to teethe, or late to walk or talk. My mother worried when at age 3; I could not yet stand on my head. I didn’t master it until I was five.

I rank standing on my head along with swimming, bicycling, and reading as one of the most enjoyable learned experiences of my life. Sorry readers – I do not consider sex to be a learned activity – yes there are learning aspects, but everybody starts out able to do it as soon as the hormones kick in.

Two of my regular yoga teachers include headstands in every class. Students who don’t know how yet, hang upside down on the rope wall, or do their headstands next to a wall so they can catch themselves if they fall. Those of us who can stand on our heads easily, do them in the middle of the room.

After my accident, I had to hang from the ropes for 4 months. Then I progressed to doing headstands against the wall. Now, 7 months later, I’m finally doing them in the middle of the room again. I consider this to be a major victory on the recovery route.

One of the teachers noticed that I still can’t do any of the poses that require flexibility in my left hip. She set me up with a balancing device called a trestler. Fine. I’ll take all the help I can get. Then she told me I should not be doing head stands because I cannot do the standing poses. She says in her training, it is not considered safe to stand on your head until you can do the standing poses.

I used to be able to do the standing poses – before the accident. The fact that my shoulder has healed up enough to allow me to stand on my head before my hip has healed enough to allow me to get into the standing poses, is just the way my body is healing. It makes no sense to me to deny myself the pleasure of what I can do while waiting for other parts to heal.

I learned the yoga poses in the official order. Now, I’m relearning them in the order my body can handle them. I’m not a beginner any more.

I had friends whose children learned to walk without ever crawling. It would make no sense to forbid them to walk.

I used to think my yoga teachers were trying to keep me safe, and teaching me to do what I could handle in a sensible progression. Now I have to learn when to tell my yoga teachers to let me decide what is safe.

I’ve trusted teachers all my life, unless they were blatantly teaching things I knew weren’t true. Then I cooked their goose in front of the whole class. I’m an education addict. Even though I still believe teachers are well-meaning, here I am a grey-haired geezer, finally learning that they are not the best arbiters of when I should learn what.