Friday, December 12, 2014

What's the Appeal of Rudolph?

I think I figured out Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.

I was looking for a place to market my revolutionary Thanksgiving story.  Spider looked like it might be a good choice, so I read the sample issue online.

It featured a frog version of Rudolph.  A little frog with short legs can’t hop and dance like the regular frogs, so they leave her home when they rehearse their show.  

But one day, the frogs get in trouble, and the short-legged one can help them out with her big ideas.

As a red-nosed short-legged wombat myself, I’ve always sided with Rudolph.  Who are these other creatures who seem to run the world?  Why do they get to reject me?  And then, why-oh-why do they think I should help them out on the rare occasion when they think I might be useful?

And why-oh-why do I comply?

I thought this story was written for the oddball child.

Then it occurred to me.  Most children aren’t oddballs.

This story would have a minuscule market if it was aimed at the oddballs.

This story is written for the normals –the creatures who run the world.  It says to this majority – this ruling class – it’s okay to exclude and insult the oddball.  And if you ever should need the red-nose short-legged one, s/he’ll help you out. S/he’ll be thrilled to do so. And afterwards you can go back to ignoring him or her.

Sure, you have to be nice while you are being helped, but it won’t last long and soon your problem will be over and you can go back to normal.

So, no, Spider isn’t the right magazine for my story.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Don't Give the Police an Excuse

Here I was – sounding off about how Michael Brown was unarmed and the only crime the police officer knew about was jaywalking – and then he shot him dead – emptied his gun into him.

A police officer explained to me that I was couch quarterbacking something I knew nothing about.

When a police officer, or anybody else is trained to use a gun for self-defense, the training includes -- don’t start shooting unless you feel threatened, but if you do feel threatened, – if you start shooting -- you keep shooting until the gun is empty. 

This makes sense. In a stressful situation, simple instructions are the easiest to follow.  

I get it.  Almost every day, a white police officer kills an African-American male. I get it. About 30% of African-American males are convicted felons.  I get it – drugs should be legal. I get it, prisons should not be run for profit.  I get it – there is tons wrong with our legal system.

But, being a police officer in a country where guns are easy to get is a dangerous job.  The purpose of guns is to kill.  Mistakes in judgement happen.

I’m a white female.   I was trained as a child – if the police ask you to do something – even something unreasonable – you do it – unless it is something illegal or something that could get you in more trouble later – for example, if a police officer asks you to pick up something that isn’t yours – don’t do it – don’t get your fingerprints on possible evidence.  Expect that the officer may hit you, but that’s better than doing jail time.

Apparently Michael Brown was not trained this way.   Jaywalking is not a lethal offense. Disobeying a legal request of a police officer is a lethal offense, especially if you are an African American male.

I’d like to start by making guns harder to get.  I’d like to start by making sure that everybody gets trained the way I was trained – do what the police say, unless it is illegal.

Vote.  Make sure that the police force in your city or town has representatives from all the races, ethnic groups, and economic groups.  Ferguson has an all white police force, and an all white government.  But the city is 64% African-American. 

And make sure that everybody knows – police are trained to empty their guns if they start shooting. Don’t give them an excuse to start.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Blue Cross, Blood and Sweat

Blue Cross wants Blood and Sweat.

Last August, Blue Cross sent me an email that I could have 15% off on my insurance for the year if I got a bunch of blood tests by the end of the month.  I hate being popped.  I hate discussing my results with a doctor who is out-of-date on the latest research and insists that high cholesterol is dangerous for women.  The latest research shows that high cholesterol is protective for women.  But, I got the tests. And I sent the latest articles to the doctor, who ignored them and told me to get more exercise.

I go to my gym at least 3 times a week.  Monday is elliptical.  Wednesday is tread mill. Friday is helix.  Plus any day is rowing, free weights, and mat exercise. I ride my bike all over town. And I do yoga at home, daily.  I’ve told the doc this, but he doesn’t listen.

Blue Cross has a deal that if I go to the gym 120 times in a year, they’ll pay me $150.  I thought I had plenty of time until the end of the year.  Then Blue Cross sent me a letter.  This year, I have to finish the 120 visits by December 12.  

I looked at the calendar.  I can make it.  If I don’t miss a day, I can do it by December 6.

I’m not going to do anything based on the blood tests.  I’m not sure why going to the gym every day for a few weeks matters to Blue Cross.

They’re crazy.  My blood and sweat don’t do them any good.  But, I’ll do what they want in order to save money.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Must Tigers Eat Only Vegetables?

I attended a Mindfulness Workshop at which the leaders read some of their favorite poems. Two lines have stuck with me:

For us to know peace, is it necessary that there be no war anywhere in the world?
For us to know peace, is it necessary that all tigers eat only vegetables?

I find the juxtaposition useful as well as charming.

It is easy to say that feeling responsible for the world is a good thing. 

It is less easy to give orders to tigers, and expect them to be obeyed.

The juxtaposition allows me to see the warmongers of the world as tigers.  This does not mean that war is okay.  It just means that I acknowledge war as part of this world, just like tigers.

I can vote and advocate for peace.

I can also admit that my life goes on just fine when I don’t read the newspaper and don’t inform myself about the wars.

The peace that really matters to me does not depend on wars or tigers, but on how I treat my fellow humans, be they warmongers or tigers, or other peace-lovers.

Friday, November 7, 2014

I've Become Part of the Problem

I have been known to make mistakes on my taxes. The feds and the state send me corrections to my taxes, usually in their favor. They show me where I made my errors, much like a school teacher.

So, this year, I was pleased when the city of Philadelphia put up a self-calculating tax form. All I had to do was copy numbers from my schedule C – total income and total profit.  The form calculated the rest.  I paid the city what it said I owed.  I thought I was done.

Yesterday, I got a letter.  Underpayment $29. Plus late fee and penalty.  Pay $32.87 by November 11, or the bill will go up.

No explanation.  No copy of my tax forms with corrections.  Just a bill.

And since they calculated the tax in the first place, it seems to me that if there is an error, they made it.   Yes, I did double check their math and I did calculate the same tax. It is unlikely that they and I would make the same mistake, if there is one.  So, I doubt there was an error. I suspect that the city wants more money and they know if they send every small business in the city a bill for a small enough amount that we’ll all pay it and not try to fight them.

I feel dishonest paying that bill.  I’ve become part of the problem – I no longer fight for my ideals if they cost $32.87.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Taking a Mindfulness Class

 I’ve been stressing out lately, playing scary scenarios in my head, rehashing conversations that went badly, even my dog quickly bored of playing with me.

I decided to take the Mindfulness class offered at a nearby hospital.  Jon Kabat-Zinn has a good reputation, as a man who was trained as a Buddhist meditator who figured out how to teach meditation without the Buddhism.

I’ve meditated before, on a regular basis, but this program was reputed to offer something gentler.

I’ve heard the words: be kind to yourself, before.

But then there was always the strict set of instructions: how to sit, how to breathe, how to think about thinking. Yes, when I can get it all together, it does feel like a vacation from stress.  I was looking for a gentler way to get the same or better effect.

The program has this, and it has its own stresses. I’ve got a personality clash with the teacher. Plus, as a long time yoga student, I resent the mechanical yoga script that the teacher uses.  I think she got it from headquarters – this is a franchised program – which makes the poor yoga class even more wrong – it’s not just my teacher messing up, but teachers all over the world messing up. Yoga is so much more than getting into various postures. It is a way of being in the postures, feeling the body, the areas that tighten up and the areas that relax. 

I get it – Kabat-Zinn is a trained meditator – not a trained yoga teacher.  But I wish he’d hired a yoga teacher to write that script.  When I mentioned this to the teacher, she gave me “permission to do your own yoga routine.”  I wasn’t asking for permission.  I was pointing out that the class could be improved with a yoga script prepared by a real yoga teacher. I even found her two good routines on YouTube, and sent her the links.

Anyway, the course has ways to deal with being upset, disappointed, angry, frustrated, and all the other emotions.  I particularly liked the week in which we were asked to write down one unpleasant event each day, and then write how it felt in our bodies.  The goal is to be able to notice the physical sensations that come with emotions, and recognize what is happening – maybe in time to avoid yelling at somebody.

These feelings come and go – the program helps students get used to the changing terrain that is our bodymind.

I've been taught be-kind-to-others forever.  Don’t accuse other people of cheating or lying. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Even if they are cheating and / or lying, they’ve got stresses, they are doing the best they can.  Be nice to them. 

But I’ve always been under strict instructions that I must never cheat or lie or do any number of “bad things.”. And it seemed to me that I was not allowed to be kind to myself.

I’m finding that if I take the time to approach an angry disagreement while keeping in mind that we're just two people getting upset -- then it’s not such a scary big deal.  We can deal with this, and get on with our lives.

This works way better for me than, I’m-supposed-to-be-kind and they’re supposed-to-be-scary.

I like the mindset of this program – explore what it is to be human, have likes and dislikes, fears and joys, and recognize that everybody else has these, too.  

There is no need to pay for a class at your local hospital. I wish I’d known that before I signed up. The class is available free online:

The only reasons to seek out a class is if you want other people to practice with, or if you want the pressure of homework assignments to make sure you do the work. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Mindful Movements

So you’ve taken a yoga class... that doesn’t mean you know how to teach yoga.

I’m taking Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction. In the first few weeks we were taught how to do a body scan and how to do breath-based meditation.  I’ve meditated for over 20 years.  These instructions were valid and valuable.

This week, a student-teacher lead our class in about 25 minutes of what she said was yoga. Her first instruction was “Get into Rest Pose.”

Yipes!  “Rest Pose!”

First of all she presumed that everybody in the room knew what she meant.  She never described the pose, or how to get into it. And second she thought that baby-talk was appropriate.  There is no such thing as “Rest Pose.”  If you want to be delicate, you could call it “Final Rest Pose.”  The real name is “Corpse Pose.”  Or if you want to be formal “Shivasana.”

The session got worse from there.  Her descriptions, when she bothered to give them, weren’t clear, so I had to keep sitting up to watch her.  She never described where to relax, where to focus the mind.  This is supposed to be “mindful movement.”  Yoga is indeed mindful movement.  All she had was a series of positions with minimal explanation. 

I get it that a beginning yoga student may perceive a class like that.  

This woman is studying to become a Mindfulness teacher.  She knows she must study in order to teach Mindfulness.   Why does she think she can teach yoga, without learning how?

I tried to talk about this with the main teacher.  She was, understandably, protective of her student.  She suggested I try the recordings available on the class website.  

I already do yoga every day.  I don’t feel the need for a recording.  But any program that would allow an unqualified teacher in a live situation needs to rethink yoga as part of their curriculum.

I went to youtube and found a video by Thich Nhat Hanh showing mindful movements that do not involve yoga:

And here’s a reminder sheet, for printing:

I get it that folks who want to teach Mindfulness may not also wish to become certified yoga teachers.   They should either hire certified yoga teachers for that portion of the class, or teach different movements.  Yoga has no monopoly on mindful movements. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Doing Battle with Comcast

My neighbor has Comcast for internet, TV and telephone.  I always advise my clients to have telephone separate from their internet, so that when one is down, they can use the other to get help. Most of my clients don’t listen to my advice. They just call me when things go wrong.

It was a dark and stormy night (I kid you not) when my neighbor with the Comcast Trifecta called from another neighbor’s.  He lives about 5 blocks from me.  His phone was out. I suggested he call Comcast.  But Comcast was having troubles with their hotline, so they weren’t taking calls.

I knew there was no way I could talk my neighbor through getting on webchat unless he was at his keyboard, so I went on webchat on his behalf from my home on my computer, with my login.

The Comcast rep said she couldn’t send someone to my neighbor’s house unless he got on the chat to ask in person and verified his identity. I couldn’t call him to tell him this. I wasn’t going to walk 5 blocks in the dark and rain to tell him. I asked if I could talk to a supervisor.  The rep insisted this was a Comcast rule for my neighbor’s security.  I tried telling her that my neighbor is an elderly gentleman who lives alone and it was far greater risk to his security that he spend the night without a phone than that somebody from the Comcast repair department knock on his door and ask if it’s okay to come in and fix the problem.

Finally, the Comcast rep agreed to send an email with a webchat link to my neighbor.

He couldn’t log in because he didn’t know his password.  And he couldn’t get a password because he couldn’t call while he was at his computer. And they weren't answering calls anyway.

I had a job the next morning, but that afternoon I went over.  His phone still didn’t work. He had called Comcast from the neighbor’s.  They said they were sending somebody.

Meanwhile, as long as I was there, he wanted me to disconnect his fax machine and his upstairs answering machine that he never uses.  After I had them out, and removed the daisy chain of cables and used a coat hanger to get the true phone line behind the desk so it could reach the wall jack, his phone started working.

My guess is that something in one of them was keeping his phone in a state of off-the-hook. It was now long past time when Comcast’s representative should have arrived.  They hadn’t sent anybody after all.  My client received a phone call asking how he liked Comcast’s service.  5 for very satisfied and 1 for dissatisfied.  He pressed 1.  The Comcast call hung up.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Hanging Up Socks by the Toes

My houseguest and I were hanging up our laundry on the line. I hung up my socks by one side of the cuff.  She hung hers up by the toe.

I remembered that my mother used to hang her socks up by the toe.  It never made sense to me. The point of hanging up laundry is so it will dry.  The toe is the thickest part of the sock, and when you put a clothes pin over a bent toe, you are just bunching the thickest part of the sock together – that can only slow down the drying process.

So, I asked my houseguest – “Why do you hang your socks that way?”

She answered, “That’s how my mother taught me.”

We’re both teachers.  So, I suggested, “Look at it from first principles.” 

She continued to hang up her socks by the toe.  Yes, it takes longer. Yes, it is illogical.  But it the long run, who cares? Both our socks did dry in the sunshine. 

Friday, October 3, 2014

The Lying Day

I'm working on a completely different story and can't get my head out of it to write a blog, so here's a story I wrote a few years ago:

The Lying Day

1) Today is a school holiday. A whole day for playing. Except you never can tell with my mother. Usually she asks me what I want to do, and we do it. But sometimes, she decides to do chores, which I hate.

2) "Chester," my mother calls. "Have you cleaned your room?"
"Yes," I say. But, I'm lying. I really pushed everything under the bed. I don't want today to be a chores day.

3) "Knock. Knock." My mother knocks at the door. "May I come in?"
"Yes," I say. I just know she'll say something nice about my neat-looking room.
She opens the door. "How neat your room looks!" she says. I smile, but I don't feel proud.

4) Then she walks over to my bed, lifts up the bedspread, and looks underneath.
I get a tight feeling in my stomach. I just know she's going to yell at me. And I hate it when she does that.

5) But she doesn't yell. She puts the cover down again, looks at me, and says calmly, "Your room isn't neat at all. Your toys are all under your bed. How did that happen?"
"Aliens put them there," I say. I know this is another lie, but I hope she'll believe it and feel sorry for me. If she's feeling sorry for me, I never have a chores day.

6) My mother's expression doesn't change. She doesn't look sorry for me. But she doesn't look angry, either, like she does when I've been bad.
"Oh," she says, still calmly. "The aliens put them there."
"Yes," I say, hoping that repeating my lie will convince her it's true.

7) "In that case," says my mother, "I think I'll take you to Cinderella this afternoon, instead of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
"But I want to see Indiana Jones!" I yell.
"You couldn't possibly want to see Indiana Jones," says my mother. "You tell lies."
"I'm not lying," I shout. "I want to see Indiana Jones."

8) But my mother acts as if she didn't hear me.
We get in the car, and we drive right by the movie theater with Indiana Jones. And she takes me to Cinderella. I have to sit through all that gushy stuff with the singing mice, which I hate.

9) Afterwards, my mother takes me to the ice cream parlor, like she always does after a movie.
"I want pecan fudge!" I say.
"Then I'll order strawberry for you," says my mother.
"But I want pecan fudge!" I yell. 
"You couldn't possibly want pecan fudge," says my mother. "You tell lies."

10) I eat the strawberry ice cream, but I don't like it. Strawberry ice cream is boring. It doesn't crunch like pecan fudge.

11) I look at the clock. It isn't even 4 in the afternoon yet. I don't want my mother to get any more weird ideas for how to ruin my day, so I say, "I want to go to the park." There isn't anything I don't like to do at the park. If I say I want to swing and she takes me to the slide, I'll still have fun.

12) My mother says, "I'm taking you to the department store, where you can try on new shirts."
"I want to go to the park!" I yell. "I don't like to try on shirts."
"You couldn't possibly want to go to the park," says my mother. "You tell lies."

13) We drive right past the park on the way to the department store.
"Let's stop and swing on the swings!" I yell. Usually my mother likes to swing on the swings.
My mother acts as if she doesn't hear me.

14) I think about telling her I want to go to the barber shop, which I hate even worse than trying on shirts. But she might take me to the barber shop. And then I'd have to get my hair cut. Today is even worse than a chores day.

15) When we get to the department store, my mother makes me try on white shirts. That's the color I hate the worst.
"I want a red shirt," I say.
"You couldn't possibly want a red shirt," says my mother. "You tell lies."

16) I am getting angrier and angrier. This is no way to spend a school holiday. There has to be a way to get her to listen to me and do what I want.
"When can we go home?" I ask.
"Do you want to go home?" asks my mother.

17) I am so angry I can barely talk. I say, "If I say 'Yes, I want to go home,' you'll say I couldn't possibly want to go home.
You'll say I tell lies. But if I say 'No, I don't want to go home,' then I'm lying. How can I tell you what I really want?"

18) "You'll have to tell the truth," says my mother.
"How will you know it's the truth?" I ask.
"Let's practice," says my mother.
"Okay," I say.
"Is your room clean?" asks my mother.
"No," I say. "I put everything under the bed."

19) "Why did you do that?" asks my mother.
"Because I didn't want today to be a chores day," I say.
"That sounds like the truth," says my mother. "Now, do you want to go home?"
"Yes," I say. "I want to go home."

20) When we get home, my mother asks, "What do you want to do tomorrow?"
I say, "I want to see Indiana Jones and I want pecan fudge ice cream, and I want to go to the park."
My mother says, "Now I know you're not lying. If you clean your room, we'll do that."

21) "What if the aliens come and put everything under my bed?" I ask.
"If they do, I'll believe you," says my mother. "I know you won't tell lies again."

Friday, September 26, 2014

They Didn't Kill the Cat

One of my clients emailed me – she was upset – her cat is dying and she can’t stand to see him suffer – she’s taking him to the vet to have him put to sleep.

I know she has no family members who could go with her, so I volunteered.  She accepted.

I met her at the vet’s office.

Her cat hadn’t eaten in 3 days.  He was weak.  He’d had many medical tests and tried many medicines.  She’d spent over $6000 trying to save him.  He’s only 9, which is young for a cat. He was obviously in pain.

The vet was just back from an all cat vet meeting.  She had ideas for more tests (that could be run on existing tissue samples, so no more pain for the cat). Depending on the results, she had ideas for more medicines to try.

The vet wanted to try these options before putting my client’s cat to sleep.

My client had planned to board her cat at the vet while she went out of the country. She will be out of contact with everybody while she is gone. 

The vet agreed that this isn’t good. If her cat doesn’t get well, there will be no way to contact my client if the new drugs don’t work and the decision must be made.

Then the vet made an offer I’ve never seen before. She offered to take ownership of my client’s cat, pay for the tests, pay for the medicine, and make any necessary decisions.  She would take care of the cat as her own.

Such kindness is remarkable.  I support my client in accepting it.

The vet promised to keep my client posted with results of the tests and the medicines and any necessary decisions.

From what I saw, this cat doesn’t have much of a chance, but it is wonderful that the vet is willing to try. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

Are Algebra Woes Hereditary?

When my younger daughter had trouble with algebra in junior high, I told her, I’d had trouble with algebra in junior high, too.  But I took it again when I was older and the 2nd time it was easy.  I didn’t know if it was easy because I was older or because I had a better book.

When I decided to try algebra again in my late 20's.  I went to the local book store (yes, a regular bookstore, not the college text book shop) and spent the afternoon looking at all the algebra books in the book store. I finally selected one. It cost $6, which was more than 4 hours wages.  But I had decided to learn algebra. I had enrolled in college algebra and I wanted to pass it this time.

Whatever the cause, my maturity, my new textbook, suddenly algebra made sense.  I was even able to show my teacher new ways to solve problems. 

A few days ago, someone emailed me – about trouble with algebra.  What did I suggest?  Clearly, telling her to wait until her late 20's wasn’t an option.

I’d long since sold my old copy – in well-used condition.  But a few minutes of searching the web, and  I found plenty of people selling old copies, some for a penny plus shipping.  And despite its age, some sellers claim to have copies in very good condition.  I have to wonder if these copies were used.

Yes, this is an advertisement. Yes, I get a commission if you buy from this link.  I’m not sure what the commission on a penny is.  So, I’m not doing this just for the money. If you know somebody who is having trouble with algebra, the book I recommend is Modern Elementary Algebra by B. R. Rich
Modern Elementary Algebra

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Getting a Parakeet to Sit on my Finger

I’m frequently amazed by the skills my muscles remember.

Of course I can ride my bike and swim. And do some magic tricks with rubber bands.

But get a parakeet to sit on my finger? Is that even a muscle skill?

I hadn’t done that in over 50 years.

My grandtwins were given parakeets for Bat Mitzvah presents. They asked if I, the oldest person in the room, knew how to get a parakeet to sit on a finger.  I had a parakeet when I was about their age.  Actually, I had several parakeets.  And, they sat on my finger.  I remember tapping the wall and having the birds fly to sit on my finger.  But that’s not how it starts.

I couldn’t find the words to explain how to get a parakeet to step off its perch and climb onto my finger.  So, I put my hand in the cage, put my finger in position, touched the bird’s toes in the way that my muscles remembered, and it stepped onto my finger.  My grandtwins were thrilled.

They had me repeat the action. They copied it.  The bird put a foot onto their fingers.  Muscles can teach muscles what words cannot say.

Muscles remember what words have forgotten.

Muscles are amazing.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

High Cholesterol is Protective for Senior Women

Here’s a big new secret:

High cholesterol is protective in women.

A Norwegian study of 27,000 women

An Austrian study of 82,000 women

Both studies show that the higher a woman’s cholesterol (past the age of 60) the less likely she is to have cardiovascular disease, the less likely she is to die of a heart attack or stroke.

The Austrian study is from 2004.  The Norwegian study is from 2012.

Yet in 2014, women in America who have cholesterol over 200 are told they must reduce their cholesterol level by exercise, diet and pills.  

Why would American doctors want to take away women’s protection from heart disease?

All I can think of is that they don’t know about these studies.  I have no idea how to educate the doctors.  

However, doctors are strapped for time. When they see a woman’s blood test results, they look for H’s and L’s.  If that H wasn’t printed on a woman’s blood test result sheet, then doctors wouldn’t try to treat them.

So, I’m trying to find out how to get the guidelines for blood labs changed.  If I can succeed, a simple change in printouts will save thousands of lives.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Even Breasts Look Odd to me

The one thing I really miss since my mastectomy is going braless.  

I’ll go out without make-up.  I’ll wear dirty gardening clothes when I walk my dog.  I am not vain. But, walking around with one boob just looks weird, even to me.  

So, before I go out in public, I stuff a prosthetic into a mastectomy bra and put the thing on.  Even when the weather is hot. Even when I won’t be seeing anybody I know.  Everybody I know is aware I’ve had one boob chopped off.  But they’re still used to seeing me with two.

Recently I read about stick-on boobs.  No glue – something in the texture of the prosthetic is supposed to make it stick to the skin without feeling icky or irritating.

I read reviews.  Several models got positive reviews, but very few details.

I wrote some stores that carry them – do you have a model that stays on when swimming vigorously?

One store wrote back that they have one model that will do the job.  I ordered it.

Then I thought – I forgot to ask how the sizing runs in that model.  

I wrote the store.  The consultant wrote back that the model I had ordered runs small.

Yay!  It was my smaller breast that got cancer.  I think it looks odd to have even looking breasts. I never had them before, so why now, when the replacement is fake?  But all the consultants I talked to previously, suggested I buy the size that fits the bra – no one had mentioned the possibility that I might want something different. And I didn’t think about it.

I’m looking forward to looking more like me again – with uneven breasts.  And now that I’ve thought about it, I’ll just order a size smaller in the future. 

If I have to buy a boob, it may as well fit my self-image, rather than my bra.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Why do Docs Gloom-and-Doom me?

Why would I even want a doctor? I don’t get sick.

Not unless you count being hit by a car and getting cancer.  And I don’t need a regular doctor to treat emergencies.  That is the work of specialists and surgeons.

But, I want someone to go to if I ever need a referral.

So, I tried a new doc.

I was nervous.  I always am when I go to visit a doctor.

I have hated doctors ever since I was little.  They always want my blood and they do things that hurt. 

When I was a child, the horrid nurse would cut my fingertip with a razor blade and then squeeze blood out of it.   Nobody ever told me why.  The medical profession apparently has the right to hurt people without giving reasons.

And doctors have gloom-and-doomed me all my life.  Each one picks a new topic that they think will kill or maim me. And then they get all bossy and mean telling me what I need to do to prevent this upcoming gloomy doom.

I was hit by a car while riding my bike when I was 9.  My hips were knocked out of alignment.  For the next 9 years, my mother took me twice a year to a horrible man who said I had scoliosis and that I was going to grow up to be an ugly cripple if I didn’t let him fuse my spine and put a rod in my back.  I refused.  But I had to listen to his horror stories twice a year.  Plus he took a bunch of x-rays every year – he took two each in every position “in case one didn’t come out.”   I'm blaming my cancer on his x-rays.

When I was 34, somebody told me about a chiropractor who treated scoliosis.  I went to him.  He took one look at me and said, “You don’t have scoliosis. Your hips are out of alignment.” He then adjusted my hips.  Poof! Amazing! My hips were level. I was more comfortable.  I’d been out-of-alignment for 25 years. Docs don't talk to chiropractors. They'd rather gloom-and-doom.

Then there was the doctor who delivered my first child.  He let me go through the entire labor without drugs even though I pleaded for them.  But, for the delivery, he gave me a spinal and an episiotomy and dragged my daughter out with forceps.  He claimed there was something wrong with my spine and I could never have a baby normally.

Two years later, I had my second child at home after a 1 hour labor. My husband delivered her without problems. I wrote the doc who had delivered my firstborn to give him the good news. He wrote back an angry letter that my baby could have had problems and I shouldn't have had her at home.  With one gloom-and-doom dismissed, he had to invent a new one.

When I wanted to get my tubes cut, the first doctor I went to insisted on a bunch of blood work.  He discovered that I have Gilbert’s Syndrome. Suddenly he wanted to biopsy my liver and spleen and gall bladder and run a bunch of other tests.  He was sure I was in imminent danger of major problems.   

I found a different doctor to do my tubal ligation.

That doctor freaked out because during the surgery, he saw that my intestines have thin walls.  He’d never seen anything like it. He didn’t know why I was alive. You’d think he’d just done an alien autopsy.  Fortunately, he didn’t have any treatments in mind.

The story goes on and on like this.  Doctor after doctor.  Gloom-and-Doom story after gloom-and-doom story.

This new doctor was no exception.  I came in for a general physical.  He measured my blood pressure.  It was high. 148 / 75.  My heart rate was 90 bpm.  I was stressed out. Wondering what horror story this one was going to give me.  Other doctors had seen this before.  They call it White Coat Syndrome. Long ago, I bought a blood pressure cuff.  At home, my blood pressure is in the 1-teens over 70 something and my heart rate is in the low 70's.

The doc was polite to me in his office.  He didn’t doom-and-gloom me right there.

A few days later, I received an email from WebMD telling me that New Doc had recorded the purpose of my visit as High Blood Pressure.

I got out my cuff.  I took a photo of the readout. 114 / 79.  I emailed it to him and asked him to please correct the WebMD record to show the real reason I had gone to his office.  He refused.

Then he told me I need to get more exercise and eat a better diet.   We had discussed my exercise during the visit – how I get between 3 and 4 hours of exercise per day. We did not discuss my diet.  

He’s a goner.  He gloom-and-doomed me. He lied about me. And he gave me an unfounded order for lifestyle change.

Next year, I’ll try again. Maybe.  

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

My NOW Series

During my week of being unplugged, I started thinking of words for which NOW could be an acronym.  Here's what I have so far.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Outgrow Beginners Mind

I took the past week off to meditate, and read books by meditators.  Many ideas were useful – I’ll cover them in future blogs.  But first I want to comment on one that jarred me: The idea of beginners mind as something to be cultivated.

The standard argument says something to the effect that in the beginners mind all problems have many solutions, but to the expert mind, there are few.

In my experience, it has been the opposite.  When I was a beginning home owner, and my air conditioner wouldn’t turn on, I had only one idea – call the repair shop.

The repairman came over, instructed me to put new batteries in the thermostat. He waited, while I did that, obviously going over in his mind what to do next if this step did not produce the desired results. Voila – new batteries – the air conditioner turned on.

The folks who write these books for beginning meditators offer proven techniques and advice based on experience.

The beginners mind is a necessary stage, but as I see it, the beginners mind last only as long as necessary, until we become more adept.  

Friday, August 8, 2014

My Prosthetic Floats

The owner at my gym asked me if I had a bikini for summer.  I think he was teasing, and he’s been hitting on me lately, which I think is totally inappropriate. So, I took this as an opportunity to give him a straight line and possibly turn him off at the same time.  “Of course. I need one to hold my prosthetic.”

I’ve tried the one-piece mastectomy swimsuits.   After the suit is thoroughly wet, the prosthetic sinks down and down, closer to my waistline.  With a bikini, there’s no place for the prosthetic to go.

Or so I thought.  I swam my quarter mile plus 2 laps.  As the swimming season goes on, I become stronger and more vigorous. I climbed out of the pool, and took off my goggles. As I was walking to the shower, I saw the 20-something lifeguard starring at my chest.  This man can’t even be bothered to watch people swim, and here he was looking at a grannie chest?   Something wasn’t right here. 

I looked down.  Half my swimsuit top was empty.  Back on with the goggles. Back into the pool.  Slowly, I did breast stroke up and down the lanes where I had been swimming freestyle, so I could keep my face in the water.  Nothing.  

My swimming prosthetic is clear silicone.  I asked another woman who was swimming to be on the lookout for it.  She asked, “Does it float?”  I told her, “I don’t think so.”

Meanwhile, my husband, the alien, was scanning the pool as he walked along side it.  He pointed at a rather large looking bubble about 10 feet from me.  I swam over to investigate.  “It floats!”

I guess I gave the swimsuit a rough ride, and the prosthetic bailed.   Now I have to find my bottle of water-proof glitter and paint spots on it, so I can find it more easily if it escapes again.

And the company needs a new slogan: The Prostheic that Floats.  I stuffed the fake boob back into its pocket, and climbed out again.  I never did tell the lifeguard what happened. 

Friday, August 1, 2014

Drunks in the Hood

There are two bars on my block, and several others on nearby blocks. So, when I wake up to find my flower box half-way down the block with dirt dumped out and flowers torn, I don’t know which bar overserved.  At least I know that the drunks weren’t driving, unless they ripped up flower boxes while meandering toward their cars.

It’s never just my flower box.  It’s flower boxes all the way down the block.

Yesterday was the first time for a new neighbor.  He asked how often this happens.  I told him about twice a year.

This morning was unusual.  I couldn’t get out my front door because a drunk was sleeping on my stoop.  He didn’t respond to having his arm wiggled. But he was breathing.

I called 911.

While we waited for the police, he awoke and sat up.  He didn’t answer questions like “is there a friend you’d like us to call?” Or, “Are you hurt?”

We gave up and went back inside.

Next thing we knew, he was pounding on our door and trying our door handle.  

We called 911 again.

6 squad cars arrived. 4 officers got out. They questioned us.  Did we know this man? Did we know how long he’d been there? Had we ever seen him before?

Finally an officer told us the man was drunk and took him off our door step so we could leave our home.

The city will do that much for us – let us leave our home so we can go to work and pay taxes to support the police.  But when we ask that a local bar be denied an outdoor serving area or be required to turn down their microphone volume after 10PM, we don’t get help.  These activities also bring in revenue for the city.  That seems to be the only motive of our city government – enable those activities that bring in taxes.   So, why won’t they legalize drugs?    

Friday, July 25, 2014

Crazy Client of the Day

Some of my computer clients ask me to do the simplest things, like download a file from the web.

That’s what this client said she wanted.  She’s an out-of-towner, so she brings her computer to my house.

She asked what time she could bring her computer over. I told her 9 AM.  

She said she’d be here at 8:30.

I told her I’ll be back from my morning errands and dog walking at 9 AM.  I’ll need to leave at 9:30 because I have a 10 AM appointment downtown. If she brings the computer over at  9 AM.,  that will give us half an hour to start the download.  Once the file starts downloading, it can finish by itself.  She also had to be downtown, so she said this would work.

I was home at 9 AM.  She wasn’t there. 

At 9:20, I emailed her telling her that there was no longer time to start her download and we’d have to reschedule.  

At 9:28, she arrived.  No, she didn’t know the name of the file she wanted, or the URL where I could download it. She didn’t understand why I wouldn’t reschedule the rest of my day in order to get her file, now.  But she’d email me that information in the afternoon.  She left her computer in my living room.

She did send the email.  It detailed a multi-step process.  The file was a computer program from her job.

The email said she needed to log into the website from her work computer, enter her home email address and pay a fee with a credit or debit card.  

She would then be sent an email to her home email address with the download link.

I emailed the client back – there’s nothing I can do for her until she has the email with the download link.  Her job is in another city.  I can’t log in for her from her job.  I don’t even know where she works.

She has not replied to my email – but maybe she can’t.  I have her computer.  She’ll be by tomorrow to pick it up.  She is going to be unhappy that I have not performed a miracle.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Vegetarian Propaganda Backfires

Our local library offered a free vegetarian cooking demonstration – which means watch us cook and get a free meal.

My husband, the alien, and I went.  It was a sales pitch and we came home with the “wrong message.” 

The cooking lesson was a chance to show a captive audience photos of captive animals.  Our saleswoman kept asking – if you had a choice, would you rather be kind to animals or cruel to them?  She said that this is one thing most Americans can agree on – they’d rather be kind to animals.

Her answer was to become not just vegetarian, but vegan.  She won’t even eat honey.

The dish of the evening was gumbo made with vegan imitation sausage and vegan imitation fish. It was okay.  I was surprised that these vegan purists cooked with white flour.  Why not whole wheat? The main thing I learned was that gumbo file is really ground sassafras.

I also learned that Whole Foods has a meatless Monday program.  For $8 you can put as much food as you can fit on a plate and take it home.  This Monday they had a delicious chili made with ground mushrooms instead of meat.  They had dolmathes and several delicious salads and a fake chicken that wasn’t half bad.  I managed to put enough food on that plate for the two of us and have leftovers for a 2nd meal.

By the time we ate, we’d seen so many photos of cooped up animals, I knew I never wanted to eat such miserable creatures. They must be full of adrenaline.  But I was not convinced to become a vegan or a vegetarian.  Instead, I decided it was worth the extra money to get free range eggs and free range meat and chicken.

Yes, this will mean eating meat less often, but we eat beans and grains anyway. And meat can be spread out with more veggies to make more meals.

Those imitation meat products don’t taste as good as the real thing and they cost more.  So, compared to that kind of a vegan diet, I’m saving money.

I’ll be putting ground walnuts in my next lasagne.  Nobody will know the difference.

Friday, July 11, 2014

New Computer

Several times a week, I hang up on folks who call claiming to be Dell Technical support. They claim to know some nonsense about my having an infection in my computer that isn’t a virus and can’t be caught by my antivirus program, but that this mysterious person has managed to detect without even knowing what kind of computer I have.

But this time, the caller didn’t feel dishonest. And I had written to Dell about when to expect delivery on my new computer.  FedEx hadn’t logged it in for 5 days, and it had missed its expected delivery date.  So, I asked the caller, “Are you really from Dell or are you trying to sell me something?” 

I know. Dumb questions.  So, of course he said, “I’m really from Dell.”  

I asked, “Why are you calling?”  He said he was calling in response to my email.  Dell Technical Support really does make phone calls. 

He didn’t know about all the fake Dell phone calls.

He didn’t know any more than FedEx did about where my new computer was hiding.  But if FedEx didn’t find it in the next day or two, he’d authorize a trace.

Within minutes of delivery the next day,  Dell Technical Support called to ask if it worked.  I hadn’t even opened the box yet. I promised to email them when I had it up and running.  

I used to think happily about how nice a new fast computer with new capabilities would be.  But that maxed out about a decade ago.  Now, a new computer means I have to find all my backups and program disks and restore them to the new drive.

And before I can do that, I have to uninstall the programs on the old drive so the license will be free for reinstallation.

My hard drive is dying.  The registry is corrupt.  Uninstall doesn’t work.  I found a Mr. Fixit program on the Microsoft website that did manage to uninstall most of my programs.  BUT, it didn’t send word to the companies, so when I reinstalled, the programs said I had already used my license.  Now, I have to phone the companies, and talk with bored humans who must spend all day listening to 36 digit registration codes.  This is not going to be an easy or short process.  

I’m hoping my dying hard drive lives long enough to finish this process.  I am buying my old computer a new hard drive to give it years of more use.  But this computer eats hard drives at least once a year, and it is now out of warranty.

At least Chrome browser remembers my passwords and my bookmarks.  And I no longer have email on my hard drive. Some of the drudgery of moving to a new computer is gone.  But I have files going back to 1983.

In fact, I have things on my hard drive that I don’t care about any more. Funny and beautiful videos friends sent me in emails.  Audios of webtalks that I never want to hear again.  
Picking which files go into my new computer is like cleaning out my file cabinet.   Will I regret throwing that out?  Will I regret keeping it around?  Looking at my hard drive is both a record of my creativity and my time wasting. 

Everybody acts like having things neat is supposed to be easy. I’ll probably wind up keeping things I’ll never look at again.     

Friday, July 4, 2014

Separate and Equal

Last week I went to the Constitution Center to hear Dr. Danielle Allen of the Princeton Institute of Advanced Studies discuss her latest book, Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality. She says, “In just 1,337 words, the Declaration changed the course of the modern world, but it is now rarely read from start to finish.”

The Declaration begins:

“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

Her most fascinating point is that the Declaration uses the phrase “separate and equal.”  She considers the racist phrase that was popular for so many years “separate BUT equal” to be a corruption of the Declaration’s meaning and intent.

Dr. Allen came to her passion for the Declaration at her childhood dinner table where her parents read it sentence by sentence and discussed each phrase.

When she found herself teaching reading at a community center, she chose the Declaration not only because she loves it, but also because it is short.  She thought her students would not object to the time it takes to read.

But, when she came to class, almost nobody had read it.  Her students didn’t see why it was relevant to them and to their lives.  She found that these adult students responded when she read it to them sentence by sentence and discussed it phrase by phrase, as she had originally learned it.  No one is too old to learn from this document, but slow reading is the key.

Dr. Allen went through parts of it during her one-hour talk.

For example, why did the writers say, “when in the course of human events” instead of “here’s what we are doing”?  Dr. Allen explained that preambles were important in the early days of our country. They were intended to show the philosophy of the document.  The Declaration was to take its place in the flow of time, not just pop out of nowhere.

Now, on July 4, I’m looking for a place to attend an oral reading.  I want to keep this document alive, in all its separate and equal phrases.

Friday, June 27, 2014

A Scarlet Letter

I’m not a fan of The Scarlet Letter. It’s just one of those books that I thought everybody reads – like the Bible. It’s one of our common stories, with one of our common and therefore short-hand images.  Kind of like Juliet talking to Romeo from her balcony.

Recently, I watched the movie Burning Bridges with a group who were for the most part younger than I am.  This movie features a community discussion with  6 young men in their twenties who burned a historic covered bridge in Bucks County about ten years ago. These young men were middle class educated youths from respected families. They said they didn’t know what that bridge meant to people. And they didn’t know why they decided to destroy it. But they were sorry to have upset and disappointed so many people. They were especially upset to see their parents cry.

These young men were sentenced to 18 days in jail, 1000 hours of community service and each was fined $66,000, their share of the $400,000 it cost to replace the bridge.  One woman in the group watching this movie said she didn’t think the punishment was appropriate.  (I did think it was appropriate.) 

Partly in jest, I asked her, “Do you think they should be made to wear Scarlet A’s for Arsonist?”

Nobody laughed.  People in the room looked at me as if I was making an absurd suggestion with no basis.  Have people stopped reading The Scarlet Letter?

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Memorial for a Stranger

I’m a chronic volunteer.  Last week, I volunteered to clean up the food service at a memorial for a woman I’d never met.

I decided to go to the memorial and listen to the stories.

A woman who was in the church choir with her spoke fondly of how the dearly departed sang off key and was tone deaf, but probably didn’t know it.

A man talked about how he worked the night shift and liked to sleep late, but when the dearly departed was visiting at his home, she walked into his bedroom and woke him up early in the morning, saying “You’ve had enough sleep. It’s time to get up and fix me breakfast.”

Others talked about how she could eat 4th servings of food she enjoyed.

From the photo of her on the table, she was a woman of normal proportions. The extra food didn’t make her gain weight.

But most of all, they talked about her Faith.  She never doubted that people would be there for her.  At the end of her life, she was in a wheelchair.  But when she wanted to go to the beach, people were there to lift her and her chair into a van, drive her out onto the beach and stay there with her until she was ready to go home.

People were there to wait on her and bring her those extra servings she craved.  People seemed to enjoy helping her with whatever she desired.

She’d already recovered from brain cancer once, so her friends thought she’d survive this final illness, too.

I found it endearing that people loved telling and hearing these stories about their friend, whose company they had clearly enjoyed.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Charlatan or Fool

How do you tell the difference between a charlatan and a fool?

A charlatan knows s/he is selling nonsense.  A fool thinks the stuff might actually work.

My mother is seeing a chiropractor who does not limit himself to adjusting her spine.  He has her on a diet that by all accounts is either worthless or harmful.

My mother is 91 years old and when she started going to this man, she weighed 100 lbs.  She now weighs 91 lbs.  The food she is allowed seems to be a variation of the Paleo Diet. But then there are the supplements.  She had me look up two of them.  Solutions4 and ClubReduce are weight loss products. He also has her drinking Kangen water which Dr. Weil (who loves all things alternative) says is worthless.

My mother has neuropathy as a result of lumbar laminectomy surgery 10 years ago. She has tried many treatments without success.  She says this treatment makes her feet hurt worse, but that the chiropractor tells her this means her nerves are growing back.

Obviously, the man is selling hope.  Hope is a good product.  I want her to know that the food supplements she is taking are junk.  But I don’t want to take away her hope.  I have jumped all over her about the weight loss. She can see that she doesn’t need to lose weight. She knows she wants to attend the family get-together next September, a month before her 92nd birthday. She says she’ll gain the weight back, but if she keeps taking these supplement and eating this diet, I don’t know how that will happen.

My grand daughters made her some dairy-free cookies.  She does have a sweet tooth, so maybe that will help.  My husband called her chiropractor, and told him that he’s concerned about her weight loss.  The chiropractor says she can have organic ice cream twice a week now.  He’s afraid of toxins.

From what I’ve read, the toxin level is the same in organic and commercial foods. The main difference is that the organic farms aren’t adding to our planetary burden of insecticides and herbicides.

But right now, my concern is my mother’s health.  Both emotional and physical.  I could try to get this chiropractor’s license pulled, but he’s giving my mom hope.  So, how do I convince him to stop selling her weight loss products? And get him to encourage her to eat a higher calorie diet.? My mom is an authority follower.  I am not an authority.  Her chiropractor is.  So, I suppose charlatan or fool, I’m stuck with him, and the difference doesn’t really matter.

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Value of Bag Refunds

The cashier at Trader Joe’s asked if I wanted a ticket to enter the drawing for people who bring their own bags.  I said, “I’d rather have a nickel.”

The cashier looked confused.  “But you might win $25.”

I thought I might have been exaggerating, but I said, “I’ve been shopping here for 12 years and I’ve never won. If I got a nickel for each bag, I’d have over $100 by now.”

The cashier clearly didn’t believe me.

So, I went home and did the math.  12 years times 52 weeks is 624 weeks.
I shop on my bike, which limits my carrying capacity, so I go to the store 3 times a week.  That’s 1872 trips to the store. I often use two bags, but if I only used one bag per visit,  at 5 cents each, that’s $93.60. I was not exaggerating. As the inventor of the bag refund, I have a stake in this.

Obviously, I don’t choose my grocery store based on bag refunds.  And I don’t bring my own bags to get a rebate. My bags hook onto my bike rack, and enable me to get my groceries home without wearing them on my back.

I took the little rebate ticket. I filled it out, and put it into the raffle box. And then I thought, as a true eco-freak, maybe I should stop taking the tickets. Saving that little bit of paper might eventually save a tree.  That’s what the bag recycling is all about anyway.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Angel Keys

My husband’s mother’s soap opera life brought us to Madrid.

Or more accurately, Morata, Spain.

My husband’s mother’s first love died in 1938, during the Spanish Civil War.  He was a member of the Abraham Lincoln Battalion in the 15th Brigade. He was a good kisser. He survived Jarama, but was killed at Belchite after fighting for a year and a half against Franco’s forces. His name was Izzy.

My husband was born 8 ½ years later, but he wondered what it would have been like to have had this man as a father, and he wanted to pay him homage.  Before booking our flight to Madrid, he found a guide who could take us to Jarama, and he reserved a car at Puerto del Sol, which the car reservation website map showed was located in the center of Madrid.

We practiced the 16 lesson set of Pimsleur Castillian, so we could converse in minimal tourist dialogues, like where is it? and what does it cost?

We stayed in a room at a hotel in the center of Madrid near Puerto del Sol. My husband asked the hotel clerk at the desk for directions to the car rental office listed on our reservation.

The map was wrong. Yes, there was a Puerto del Sol, just blocks from the hotel, but the car rental office wasn’t there. It was in the suburbs.

For decades, I’ve tried to convince my husband that maps are only approximations. Even this glaring error could not convince him. Maps have gotten him lost before, but he always wants to blame himself and his map reading skills instead of inaccurate maps.

We went online to find a closer rental office. According to the car rental website, the nearest agency office had no cars available.

We tried to phone the agency headquarters.  Our cell phone global plan refused to connect us.

We tried the hotel phone.  It got us a busy signal, for which we had to pay 80 cents.

We tried a pay phone. Still no connection.

It looked as if our trip to Jarama might end like my husband’s mother’s romance – lots of planning, but no action.

So we decided to walk to the nearest car rental office, hoping to talk to somebody who could find us a car inside the city of Madrid.

The hotel clerk and the website agreed on the location of this office.  We were running out of time to meet with our guide.  We speed-walked to the designated address.  The office was supposed to be in a hotel. The hotel did not exist. We asked people on the street, using our best Pimsleur Castillian.  Nobody could direct us.  We weren’t sure if our Castillian was incomprehensible or if the hotel truly did not exist.  We had heard about traveling angels, but never the anti-travel sort.  Surely, there was no reason we shouldn’t visit the war museum and the old battle grounds.

Finally we walked into a hotel near the listed address.  As we waited in line to talk to the hotel clerk, I noticed a small desk at the back of the lobby decorated with a car rental sign.

Nobody was at the desk.  I imagined there would be a phone at the desk, and that we could use it to call the agency headquarters. This seemed like a desperate last hurrah.  Who knew what language they might speak on the other end of that phone.

As we walked towards the desk, a door in the wall opened.  A man came out and sat in the chair behind the desk.

My husband handed him our reservation receipt, and explained that we wanted a nearby car. The man understood.  He looked at his computer screen, clicked a few keys and printed us a new reservation form. This one was in Spanish.  I dreaded where he might send us next.

But then he opened his desk drawer. In it lay 2 sets of keys.  He handed my husband one set, and directed us toward the elevator.  He told us to find the car at 23.  This was all in Castillian, but we understood him, and thanked him.

While we waited for the elevator, I looked back at the desk.  Again, the chair was empty. I guess traveling angels don’t hang around when their jobs are done.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Eleven Bees: A Meditation

This is a guest blog by Jean Lorrah

I walk my dogs for at least a mile every day, meeting people, getting exercise, and watching the seasons change. We have distinct seasons here in Kentucky (where I have lived for over forty years), and being out there every day for many years I have noticed a combination of weather cycles and climate change. For example, up until 10-12 years ago, we cycled between wet and dry years, two or three dry years, then three or four wet years. There were always more wet than dry years, and there were always occasional localized floods. Now we seem to have only wet years, and the floods come more frequently and range over wider areas.

Recently our winters have been more severe than usual, and lasted longer. In the area where I live, severe winter weather usually runs from December through February, but this past winter started in November and kept us snowed in till the end of March. What I observe as I walk this spring makes me wonder about Nature's forms of compensation.

The first time I heard of Nature compensating was a few years ago when the peach crop in southern Illinois (in our news area) failed three years in a row because of late frosts that killed the blossoms before the fruit could set. The third year that happened, the trees bloomed for a second time--but along came yet another frost and killed them again. Not to be frustrated from their purpose for a third year in a row, the trees put out an unprecedented third bloom! That one survived, and the peach farmers had a crop that year.

The purpose of life is to propagate, which fruit trees do with flowers and fruit (which carries seeds to make new trees). I'm one of those people who tends to connect new information to old information, so when the news was filled with stories of bees dying out starting several years ago, I first connected the other insects I saw carrying out pollination on my walks with the missing honey bees, and then with the three blossomings of the peach trees.

Once I knew that bees were dying, I watched for them on my walks. There used to be lots of bees--it was not unusual to see dozens of them on one walk. But as the years passed there really were fewer ... and fewer ... until last year, the entire year I counted only two. That's not two bees per walk--it's only two honey bees the entire year!

But as the bees dwindled, the flowers did not. Every year there were as many as ever, the fruit trees produced fruit--how could that be if they were not being pollinated? They were--I was fascinated to see all sorts of insects doing the job the honeybees used to do. There were the big slow bumblers, and wasps, various flies, and even beetles. Nature made sure plants continued to be pollinated in spite of the dearth of bees.

And finally, this year, some of the bees are back. In the past three weeks I have seen eleven honey bees at work collecting pollen. Oh, that's still a tiny number, but eleven in three weeks is far better than two in an entire summer!

We've just come out of the longest, coldest winter on record--records that have been kept for more than a century. It's always been a rare thing to have snow in this part of the country after February. This year the second week in March saw a storm that closed everything for days: roads, schools, businesses, the Post Office. That used to happen once in a decade, and always in January or February, once in a great while in December. This year snow buried the crocuses and daffodils which came up on schedule.

And now--our little city is an absolute riot of flowers! Since spring finally arrived, a full two weeks after the Spring Equinox, March, April, May, and even a few June blooms are all flowering at once. Furthermore, each and every bush, tree, and plot of flowers has the biggest, thickest blooms I've ever seen.

Even the lowly clover is a carpet of white this spring, with the individual flower heads twice as big as usual. Before the clover blossomed, as the first warm days melted the snow and coaxed out the dandelions, the local news broadcasters asked people to please not immediately pull them out as weeds, but leave them for the bees.

But it didn't take long for everything to rush into bloom--from huge azaleas (up above) to the irises that usually flower in June.

Even the rhododendron bloomed in May. Not just for the bees, of course, but Nature overcoming the horrible winter all at once, it seems. I took all the pictures you see here within the past two weeks, and have decided to spare your bandwidth the roses, peonies, magnolia, mock orange, honeysuckle, violets, buttercups, and daisies.

And then last night, as I took the dogs out before bedtime, I discovered that it's not just flowers coming out early. On May 21, over a month early, I saw the blinking of the season's first firefly!