Sunday, December 31, 2017

Say goodbye, 2017

“Ring out the false, ring in the true.” — Alfred Lord Tennyson, Poet Laureate of Great Britain and Ireland form 1850 to 1892

IF ONLY, Lord Tennyson, if only! 

We — and by we, I mean the 64% of Americans who don't approve of the way President Trump is doing his job — are all counting on you, Robert Mueller, to rid us of this narcissistic, pathological liar, so that we may indeed ring in the true.

But I digress. What I really want to do is wish you a brilliant New Year, one overflowing with love, friendship, prosperity, good health, accomplishment and fun.

What are you doing to celebrate . . . or survive? It's bitterly cold here in Iowa, at 20F below zero, one of the coldest places in the nation. Paul is unsurprisingly playing a club tonight till 2:00 AM. I'm staying home taking care of the fur-babies. 

Speaking of fur-babies, I made a new friend recently, a two-legged one, who mentioned in passing doing something that is simultaneously completely unremarkable and remarkable — and it serves as the anchor for this New Year's Eve post. 

Amanda Doerffel and her husband Mark adopted a dog this week. That's the unremarkable part. People adopt dogs, especially puppies, every day. The remarkable part is that LC, the new member of the family, is ten-and-a-half years old. 

What a generous, open-hearted thing to do: adopt a dog who is guaranteed not to have many years left, a dog that 99% of people wouldn't take because of her age. I'm so touched that I'm teary-eyed.

Ten-and-a-half-year-old, LC.

And so on this New Year's Eve, I've decided to share some HLSS posts from the past about people who have been brave enough to choose to love in spite of daunting challenges, unfavorable prospects, even certain loss.

The first one I offer you is a story about a couple who specifically sought to adopt a Down syndrome newborn baby. They weren't doing so because one or the other of them had a family connection or any other obligation to care for this particular baby; they were looking for any newborn Down syndrome baby who wasn't wanted. Click here to read Perfectly Perfect.

This second story is about a breathtakingly courageous man who takes in only terminally-ill foster children. Click here to read Loving in the Face of Certain Loss.

The last story is about a man caring for his wife who developed early-onset Alzheimer's disease less than ten years after they were married. Click here to read The Empathy Gene. 

Happy New Year. May you be brave enough to love others who need it, and may others be brave enough to love you.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Rx: better food

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” — Hippocrates, 460 - 370 BC, Greek physician considered one of the most outstanding figures in the history of medicine

HIPPOCRATES knew whereof he spake way way back in 4th century BC. 

According to recent research, one in three adults in the US has high blood pressure, exacerbating their risk of heart disease and stroke, and more than 7% of Americans have diabetes, up from 4.4% in 2000.

Drug companies have a vested interest in selling us drugs regardless of whether we might be able to cure ourselves through diet and lifestyle changes; corporations such as Frito-Lay (a subsidiary of PepsiCo, FYI) and the thousands of other junk food purveyors have a vested interest in getting us hooked on eating not just non-nutritious food, but harmful crap.

Increasingly, however, nutritionists . . . and finally more doctors . . . are helping us learn to manage and improve our health through choosing what we eat wisely. This from Mother Jones

As Diet-Related Illnesses Surge, a New Kind of Pharmacy Dispenses Fruit and Vegetables
Doctors are teaming up with food banks to prescribe meals to their patients.

By Maddie Oatman
November/December 2017

Six years ago, James Stancil, 62, a former long-haul trucker, decided to move from Iowa back to his hometown of San Francisco to live with his aging mother. There was just one problem: His enlarged heart, high blood pressure, and diabetes made his body so swollen he couldn’t get on an airplane. Doctors had to drain 75 pounds of fluid before he was well enough to fly. By the time he walked into a public health clinic near his mother’s house, his blood pressure was so high that “people were telling me, ‘You should be dead right about now,'” recalls Stancil, who’s African American and sports a white chinstrap beard. He was put on medications. He also met with a nutritionist, who urged him to cut down on salty, fatty foods like fried chicken and mac and cheese. After he learned to prepare his favorite dishes differently, his blood pressure plummeted; it’s now back to normal.

Stancil no longer has to take so many pills. Yet thanks to a new program, he still frequents a pharmacy at Silver Avenue Family Health Center—only this one fills prescriptions for things like pears and squash. The so-called food pharmacy brings together the resources of a food pantry with the acumen of clinical nutritionists and the flair of a farmers market, mostly to tackle high blood pressure and diabetes. Patients who receive a referral can stop by for donated groceries, recipe demonstrations, and cooking tips. Four more of San Francisco’s primary care clinics will host food pharmacies by next year.

Click here to read the entire article.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The new American Gilded Age

“You all just got a lot richer.” — President Donald Trump to a group of high-roller friends at Mar-a-Logo December 23, 2017 after passage of the Republican tax cut

THE REPUBLICAN-LED Congress passed Trump's abysmal tax cut bill in the wee hours December 20. Three days later Trump was at Mar-a-Lago bragging to his rich friends that he'd just made them all a lot richer. 

This particular trip to his gilded Florida resort is just one of 100 such getaways he's taken since he took office to properties he owns. A review by the Wall Street Journal found that President Trump has spent nearly a third of his time in office at one or another of his personal pieces of real estate.

One of King Trump's gilded halls at Mar-a-Lago

This is who 28.49% of eligible American voters, a coalition of the greedy and ignorant, have foisted upon us, leaving the rest us — 71.51% to be precise — in the throes us a new Gilded Age.

Think that tax cut is going to benefit you? Sucker. 

According to the Joint Committee on Taxation, households making under $75,000 will see their taxes increase, while 62% of the benefits, according to the Tax Policy Center, will go to the top 1 percent — households currently making an income of $730,000 or more.

Will the money the rich get trickle down? Not according to billionaire investor Howard Marks who assessed the chances of that happening as highly unlikely. 

Not according to Todd Carmichael, co-founder and CEO of La Colombe Coffee Roasters. In an op-ed piece he wrote for the Philadelphia Inquirer he said, "A half-trillion dollars of corporate tax giveaways proposed by the GOP aren't going to do a thing for the middle class, or create a single job. Because what every CEO knows but won't tell you is this: A tax break for their company simply means a fatter bottom line. Not jobs. Not investment." 

Not according to Eastern Bank CEO Bob Rivers who said, “I really have no personal hope that cutting corporate taxes would lead to any greater investment in the economy.”

Not according to Nicole Sahin, CEO of Globalization Partners: “Totally ludicrous. That’s not how business works.”

Other CEOs and corporate execs such as Joe Tucci of EMC and Michael Dell, chairman and CEO of Dell Technologies echo those sentiments. 

But don't worry, Trump and his rich cronies are making out like bandits.

From CNN:

2017 was a great year to be rich

By Lydia DePillis   

December 26, 2017

It's never a bad year to be rich, exactly. But 2017 turned out to be a particularly good one.

Rich people are doing so well these days that their spending on luxury goods isn't even keeping up.

Luxury spending rose 5% globally in 2017, the management consulting firm Bain & Company found. But that is a fraction of the 40% rise in net worth that people in America's top-tenth of income earners saw between 2013 and 2016, according to the Federal Reserve.

"We used to see that the growth of luxury was closely correlated with the stock market," said Milton Pedraza, chief executive officer of the Luxury Institute, a consulting firm for high-end brands. "The stock market and real estate have gone up so much that nobody wants to spend all that money. It's impossible."

Click here to read the entire CNN article.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Places that will pay you to move there

If you’re brave enough to say ‘Goodbye’, life will reward you with a new ‘Hello’. — Paulo Coelho, Brazilian lyricist and novelist

FEEL LIKE making a new life in a new home in a new town? There are places that will help pay your way. Seriously. And one is in Iowa. From House House Beautiful:

These 9 Places in America Will Pay You to Move There
If you prefer the countryside, you’ll love this news.

By Lyndsey Matthews
November 2, 2017

As more Americans move to cities, rural American towns — and even entire states — are looking for new ways to incentivize people to move to the countryside.

While 54% of Americans lived in rural places in 1910, that number fell to 19 percent by 2010, Zillow reported. To revive their communities, these places are hoping that everything from cash grants to paying off student loans and giving away free land will help draw a younger generation to them. But it’s not just small towns that hope to draw more people to them with these programs. Some cities like Baltimore and even entire states like Alaska will pay you to be their newest resident.

Click here to read the entire article

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

$10 down, $5 a month

“The piano ain't got no wrong notes.” — Thelonious Monk, American jazz pianist and composer

I DON'T solicit guest writers for Hey Look Something Shiny. Every now and then, however, a friend tells me a story I like well enough to ask her or him to be a guest author. Such is the case with this story by Randy Worth, with minor editing for clarity.

The Old Kimball

By Randy Worth

December 5, 2017

In 1905 my great-grandparents bought the family a Kimball piano, delivered by train to Lorimor, IA. They put $10 down and paid $5 a month to the Kimball company; we still have the payment book and original bill of sale.

My grandma learned to play on it and wanted to take it with her when she got married, but her parents said no. And so the piano stayed in my great-grandparents’ home through the youngest sister, who ended up with it in her home. Her children played it, but by the time her kids were grown, with their own homes and families, they had each purchased newer, better pianos.

No one wanted to buy the old Kimball, and it was destined for the landfill.

Enter my family. My kids were at the age when piano lessons seemed like a good idea, so when Grandma told me what was to become of what still felt to her like her piano, I believed I could give it a home. One call to my great aunt, the youngest sister, one pickup truck and four crazy people who volunteered to move it — and voila, the piano was sitting in my living room. Grandma sobbed when I told her I had it. 

Saved from the land fill.

By now our kids have long flown the nest. Neither one wanted the old Kimball, we didn’t want to move it to the townhouse we bought . . . and no one wanted to buy it, so I arranged for the piano to be picked up and taken to the landfill.

But wait. My son mentioned to one of his friends that we were getting rid of a piano and showed him a picture — a picture made even more attractive by the fact that it was a free piano. Enter my son’s friend with a pickup, trailer and three crazy friends who had no idea how heavy a 1905 piano is, and the next thing you know, the old Kimball was sitting in his living room.

Saved from the landfill again.

So, who was the happy recipient of the piano? The family of Maddie Walker, 2015 American Idol participant and budding country music star who now lives in Nashville and has two younger sisters who will also learn to play on Grandma’s piano. One hundred and twelve years later, the old Kimball is still making music.

Maddie Walker happens to have grown up in my home town of Ankeny, IA

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Don't get me wrong — part II

"Will the women's protest be over in time for them to cook dinner?" — John Carmen, Republican elected county representative from New Jersey

THANK YOU black Alabamians! By kicking Roy Moore to the curb, not only have you made a difference for your state, but for the whole country. 

Of those who voted in the December 12 special-election Senate race, 66% were white and 29% were black — but of those black voters, 96% voted for Doug Jones. (Black women were the most steadfast: 98% voted for Jones compared to 93% of black men.)

That's the good news. 

The bad news is that 68% of white voters chose Moore, a known racist and an accused pedophile. 

The 30% of white voters who chose Jones tended to have a college education. Millennials also opted for him. In other words, it was less educated, older people who hadn't attended college and/or hadn't graduated from high school who chose Moore

Just so you can get a sense of the demographic of white people who like him.

But the worst news is that 63% of white women who voted in the election chose Moore. That's a really depressing number.

CNN chart

I was talking to Paul about this sad phenomenon, and he said two words: "Stockholm syndrome."

He might be right! Consider the definition:

"Stockholm syndrome is a condition that causes hostages to develop a psychological alliance with their captors as a survival strategy during captivity. These feelings resulting from a bond formed between captor and captives during intimate time spent together, are generally considered irrational in light of the danger or risk endured by the victims."

Paul isn't the only one who thinks so. Below are two op-ed pieces that bolster his point of view. The first is from NBC News (Think); the second is from US News & World Report.

But be sure and read all the way to the bottom of my post, though, for something that will make you fist-pump and truly laugh out loud.

Roy Moore's white female voters are part of a long history of internalized misogyny

This acute cognitive dissonance has deep historical roots.

By Marcie Bianco

December 11, 2017 

Why do white women support Roy Moore?

Of course, not all white women. But on the eve of the divisive Alabama Senate special election, a recent Washington Post-Schar School poll reveals a shocking, significant disparity between white women’s support of Moore versus their support of the Democratic candidate, Doug Jones. While the race remains virtually deadlocked, white women support the Republican candidate by a nearly 20 point margin. And Moore holds an incredible 35-point lead among white women without a college degree.

Moore, a 70-year-old former Alabama chief justice, stands accused of molesting and assaulting numerous teenage girls — one as young as 14 — in the 1970s. Moore defends these allegations as acts of seduction, and, in conversation with Fox News host Sean Hannity, abdicated responsibility for his actions by implicitly blaming their mothers: “I don’t remember dating any girl without the permission of her mother,” he told Hannity.

So why would women — and specifically white women — support a political candidate who allegedly perpetrates such egregious violence against women and girls? 

Click here to read the entire article

White Women's Bad Bargain

Why do so many white women vote for misogynists?

By Colleen Butler-Sweet

December 14, 2017

As political observers scrutinize the victory of Doug Jones over Roy Moore in the special election to fill Jeff Sessions' senate seat in Alabama, demographic trends point, once again, to the significant racial divide between women voters. While a nearly unanimous 98 percent of black women supported Jones, carrying the Democratic candidate to victory, 68 percent of white women cast their vote for his Republican opponent who faced multiple allegations of sexual misconduct with teenage girls while he was in his 30s.

The steadfast support among white women for a Republican political candidate in the throes of sexual misconduct allegations echoes back to just over a year ago when a majority of white women helped carry Donald Trump to a presidential victory. In many ways, white female support for Republican candidates is both predictable and reliable given the 55 percent of white women who voted for George W. Bush in 2004, 53 percent who voted for John McCain in 2008, and 56 percent who voted for Mitt Romney in 2012.

The real story, though, lies in the 2016 election, when a full 53 percent of white women cast their votes for Trump even in the aftermath of numerous overtly misogynistic and vulgar verbal assaults on women. Prevailing logic seems to suggest that Hillary Clinton was such a toxic, polarizing and unpalatable candidate to this voting bloc that she was simply unable to win them over, "Access Hollywood" tape notwithstanding.

Click here to read the entire article

So you know the jackass I quoted at the top of this post, John Carmen, who represented Atlantic County, New Jersey? The guy who joked about whether women who protested in The Women's March in January would get done in time to go home and cook dinner? (And just so you'll know where his heart lies, he also wore a jacket around with a patch in the shape of New Jersey with the US flag covering the top half and the Confederate flag filling in the middle and bottom part of the state.) So that guy.

Well, a 32-year-old black woman, Ashley Bennett — a Democrat and first time candidate — decided to run against him, and she beat that sorry, anachronistic misogynist. Ahahahahahaha!!!

Ashley Bennett

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Don't get me wrong

“We need to make it clear that there’s a group of non-accusers that have not accused the judge of any sexual misconduct or anything illegal.” — Janet Porter, campaign spokeswoman, defending Republican Alabama US Senate candidate Roy Moore before his defeat

APPARENTLY his supporters thought we should have given Roy Moore a pass . . . after all not every woman he knows has accused him of sexual misconduct.

I'm grateful (and relieved) he lost. We're talking about a man who has been accused of initiating sexual encounters when he was 32 years old with a fourteen-year-old girl. Leigh Corfman said that after offering to watch over her while her mother attended a custody hearing, Moore drove her to his house and kissed her — and in a second intimate encounter, took off her shirt and pants and fondled her over her underwear and guided her hands to touch his penis over his underwear.

Three other women came forward who said he pursued relationships with them when they were between 16 and 18 years old. Altogether there have been nine women who have accused him of inappropriate relationships and behavior.

There's a word for someone who tries to initiate sex with minors: it's pedophile.

But wait, there's more . . . or in this case, Moore.

At a campaign rally in September, in response to a question asked by a black audience member as to when Moore thought America was last great, he said, "I think it was great at the time when families were united — even though we had slavery — they cared for one another. Our families were strong, our country had a direction." 

Yeah, never mind that people were enslaved back then. At the same rally he referred to Native Americans as "reds" and Asians as "yellows."

In response to a radio talk show host who in a 2011 on-air interview suggested abolishing all the constitutional amendments after the tenth, Moore said, "That would eliminate many problems. You know people don't understand how some of these amendments have completely tried to wreck the form of government that our forefathers intended." 

One of those amendments made slavery illegal and another one gave women the right to vote.

When asked in 2005 whether he thought being gay should be illegal, he said, "Homosexual conduct should be illegal, yes."

And in 2006, in a reaction to the first Muslim, Keith Ellison, being elected to the US Congress, Moore wrote an op-ed entitled Muslim Ellison Should Not Sit in Congress. 

So although I am thankful and relieved that Roy Moore lost to Doug Jones, even bearing in mind that Alabama is the reddest of red state, I still don't see his defeat as the tide having turned in a big way in favor of Democrats. Well, I guess it might as long as Democrats can make sure they always run against Republicans who are homophobic, racist, misogynistic, bigoted pedophiles. We have to keep working.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

EPA rendered toothless by Scott Pruitt

“The Pruitt E.P.A. is cratering on the enforcement work that matters most: holding the biggest polluters accountable.” — Cynthia Giles, former assistant administrator for the E.P.A.’s enforcement office and currently a director at the Energy & Environment Lab at the University of Chicago

AS HORRIFIC as this is, it absolutely fits with Trump's agenda. Comes as no surprise to those of us who knew who he was all along. From The New York Times.

Under Trump, E.P.A. Has Slowed Actions Against Polluters, and Put Limits on Enforcement Officers

By Eric Lipton and Danielle Ivory
December 10, 2017

EAST LIVERPOOL, Ohio — The highway billboard at the entrance to town still displays a giant campaign photograph of President Trump, who handily won the election across industrial Ohio. But a revolt is brewing here in East Liverpool over Mr. Trump’s move to slow down the federal government’s policing of air and water pollution.

The City Council moved unanimously last month to send a protest letter to the Environmental Protection Agency about a hazardous waste incinerator near downtown. Since Mr. Trump took office, the E.P.A. has not moved to punish the plant’s owner, even after extensive evidence was assembled during the Obama administration that the plant had repeatedly, and illegally, released harmful pollutants into the air.

“I don’t know where we go,” Councilman William Hogue, a retired social studies teacher, said in frustration to his fellow council members. 

Click here to read the entire article.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

A really, really discouraging male tale

"And I walked around, and whenever someone yelled out something, or catcalled, I would turn around, I would ask if I could start recording, and I would say, what did you just say, and what were you hoping to get from it?" — Eleanor Gordon-Smith

A DAM has broken it seems. Women are talking. I'm trying to, but I'm doing a bad job of it. I'm stuck because misogyny, subtle or overt, is so omnipresent that it's like the air we breathe. It IS the air we breathe. We're marinating in it all the time, so much so that even we, the women who suffer the consequences, don't challenge many aspects of it.

And that's what stops me from talking . . . because it's so entirely everywhere. It would be like trying to call out individual nitrogen atoms in the atmosphere.

I've mentioned that Paul has been the means for connecting me to some extraordinary podcasts; I shared one with you in The Lady Vanishes that I continue to recommend. I have another one I want to send your way from This American Life

I don't listen to every TAL broadcast, but I happened to catch this one that originally aired December 2, 2016, so almost exactly a year ago, and I have to say, it depressed the hell out of me. I haven't been able to stop thinking about it ever since. It re-aired November 19 of this year. Ira Glass must have thought the Harvey Weinstein story and #metoo firestorm have made it relevant again. Unfortunately, it's always relevant.

Eleanor Gordon-Smith 

It's about an Australian woman, Eleanor Gordon-Smith, who got fed up with the ubiquity of women being catcalled and harassed by men and decided to see if she could change the culture by talking to a some of the perpetrators, explaining to them how it makes women feel and why women don't like it. She had meaningful dialogues with them, she believed, and she got hopeful. In the end, despite the direct, firsthand, in-person evidence absolutely to the contrary presented to them, these men decided that they had been right all along: women "like it." They like being catcalled and having there butts grabbed as they walk down the street.

Give a listen. Once More with Feeling

Monday, November 27, 2017

The #metoo chronicles

“I am a 28 year old woman trying to make a living and a career. Harvey Weinstein is a 64 year old, world-famous man and this is his company. The balance of power is me: 0, Harvey Weinstein: 10.” — Lauren O’Connor, former employee of the Weinstein Company

SINCE THE Harvey Weinstein shudder-inducing story broke, I've been struggling. 

In less than two months, as many as 80 women have come forward to accuse Weinstein of sexual misconduct, harassment or assault. On the one hand, I'm fist-pumping every time a woman has the courage to speak out against anyone who has harassed, assaulted or abused her. On the other hand, the extent of it is appalling. And on the third hand — I know there isn't one, but there should be — i've been suffering personally; it's traumatizing.

Because I have my own stories to tell. Plural. And I can't seem to get them out. My stories aren't as horrible as some, although they're plenty bad enough, but the thing that grinds me down is that there are just so many of them. And that's me . . . one woman. My experiences multiplied by all the women in the world make for an ocean of shame, humiliation, trauma, heartbreak, injury, grief, depression, anguish.

More than a month before the Weinstein story made headlines, I started trying to tell my story by writing a post called The Lady Vanishes. Then, as now, I began by talking about how stuck I am in writing about my experiences, and I attached a podcast: a quiet tale from more than 100 years ago that I found to be sadly representative of life as a woman — a century ago and still. 

That particular post was little read compared to others, and that in itself was dispiriting. (Perhaps people will find it relevant now.) 

Tonight, I've gotten no further than before. I've said all I can . . . and once again I am attaching something someone else has to say, published by The New York Times. Apparently I'm going to have to disentangle this knot in my stomach a little bit at a time.

Weinstein and Our Culture of Enablers

By Bret Stephens 
October 11, 2017

Of all of the dismaying and disgusting details of the Harvey Weinstein saga, none is more depressing than this: It has so few heroes.

There is a storybook villain, Mr. Weinstein, whose repulsive face turns out to be the spitting image of his putrescent soul. There are victims, so many of them, typically up-and-comers in an industry where he had the power to make or wreck their careers, or bully or buy their silence, or, if some allegations are to be believed, rape them.

But mostly there are enablers, both those who facilitated his predations and those who found it expedient to look the other way.

The enablers were of all sorts. Corporate board members who declined to investigate allegations of his sexual behavior and now claim the news comes as “an utter surprise.” Assistants who acted as “honeypots,” joining meetings between Mr. Weinstein and his intended victims to give them a sense of security — and then leaving the predator to his prey. Reporters who paid him tribute with awards, did his bidding with fawning coverage, or went after his enemies with hit pieces.

Click here to read the entire NYT article.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Rosa Parks and Colin Kaepernick

“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” ― Elie Wiesel, Romanian-born American Jewish writer, professor, political activist, Nobel Laureate, and Holocaust survivor

I'VE WRITTEN about Colin Kaepernick three times before. You may have gotten the impression that I'm a fan. You'd be right. 

It takes moral courage to be willing to be the match that ignites so much latent hatred, even though light is exactly what's needed to illuminate the dark places of our national psyche.

And how is the underlayment of racism so ingrained in this country not the darkest of places? I will never, ever, ever understand how so many 'Americans' (the air quotes are intentional) can value a symbol more than the reality it's meant to represent.

Glenda Elizabeth Gilmorenov has written an insightful op-ed piece for The New York Times that puts Colin's protest in historical perspective and exposes a persistent myth about the nature of social change.

Colin Kaepernick and the Myth of the ‘Good’ Protest

By Glenda Elizabeth Gilmorenov
November 20, 2017

LAST week, the editors of GQ named the quarterback Colin Kaepernick its Citizen of the Year for his work protesting racial injustice. Mr. Kaepernick has been heavily criticized by people like President Trump, who claims that an N.F.L. player who kneels during the playing of the national anthem “disrespects our flag” and should be fired; others argue that he is out of bounds as an activist who mixes sports with politics.

The problem is that Mr. Kaepernick’s critics, and most of America, don’t really understand how protests work. Our textbooks and national mythology celebrate moments when single acts of civil disobedience, untainted by political organizations, seemed to change the course of history. But the ideal of the “good” protest — one that materialized from an individual’s epiphany — is a fantasy. More often, effective protest is like Mr. Kaepernick’s: it’s collective and contingent and all about long and difficult struggles.

Click here to read the entire article.

Rosa Parks being fingerprinted after being arrested

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Dobby, the House Elf and other stories

"You shall not harm Harry Potter!" — Dobby, the House Elf

I HAVE a friend who is recovering from back surgery and as a means of passing the time, she's been listening to audio books. We were on the subject of reading aloud because she'd read my post about Paul buying all the Winnie the Pooh books and reading them to me. (I still have to pinch myself that he did that.) 

My friend considers being read aloud as the ultimate luxury and asked me if Paul had used different voices for the various WTP characters: Pooh, Piglet, Christopher Robin, Owl, Eyore, Rabbit, Tigger, Kanga and Baby Roo

Of course. 

And of course that's made it impossible for me to listen to Winnie the Pooh audio books; the voices are all wrong! The only way I'm ever going to be able hear those stories again is if he either reads them out loud to me again in person or records them. Maybe I'll ask for that for Christmas: audio books by Paul.

Our conversation jogged my memory. I'd forgotten about the time i read Paul back to Iowa

I love the Northwoods, and for a number of years Paul and I would spend at least a week of our summer in the far northern reaches of Wisconsin or Minnesota. Not surprisingly, the cabins where we stayed didn't have TV (and sometimes no indoor plumbing) so we’d bring along books to read.

Inevitably there was a fireplace, though, and every night Paul would build a fire . . . whether we needed one or not; it was after all summer . . . and if we weren’t on a late night canoe paddle or dock sit, we’d read next to the fireplace. 

One trip was during the Harry Potter era, and I brought one of the books in the series along as my selection. After a few days, Paul had finished what he’d brought to read, leaving just the one Harry Potter book between us — which I'd already gotten a ways into — but I started over from the beginning, and every night I read it aloud.

Dobby, the House Elf

But then we finished it. The next day I suggested we drive into town to see what else we could scare up in the way of books. We were in luck. Although it wasn't a big town, there was a book store, and it offered the next book in the Harry Potter series for sale. We snatched it up, and I read it aloud for the remaining night or two.

We loved our Northwoods stay as always, but it was over, and time to pack up and make the long trip home. Paul was very, unusually quiet as we began the drive. Finally he spilled the beans. He was just so sad to leave! 

I didn't want him to be sad, so I got out the second Harry Potter book, the one we’d bought while we were there, and read it to him all the way home. It was midnight by the time we were back, I was hoarse, and I’d read the entire book to him. 

Paul tells me that it's one of his favorite memories . . . being read to all the way home so he wouldn't be sad. It's funny, though. Just like me and all the Winnie the Pooh characters, Paul got so used to the way my version of Dobby, the House Elf sounds that he can't watch the movies; they've got Dobby all wrong!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Mending maybe — and a caution

"The remedy is worse than the disease." — Sir Francis Bacon, English philosopher, statesman, scientist, jurist, orator, and author

WHEN PAUL took me to urgent care four weeks ago, I was prescribed an albuterol sulfate inhaler, oral prednisone and over-the-counter anti-mucus tablets (guaifenesin). I've used the mucus-loosening pills — one before bed almost every night. It's helped clear my nose enough to sleep, finally. 

We filled the inhaler prescription, but I didn't use it because when the tech x-rayed my lungs at urgent care, to the surprise of the doctor, my lungs were completely clear. I'm much more prone to have things get into my sinuses and nasal passages and stay there, and in this case, eyes, ears nose and throat in the most miserable way, but not my lungs.

On the other hand, congestion is likely go straight to Paul's lungs. He was severely asthmatic as a child and has battled airborne allergies much of his life, so for him it's his lungs. This time has been no exception, so he's used the inhaler to breathe.

We didn't fill the prednisone prescription, however. Fortunately I'm married to an extra-smart guy. Prednisone is a steroid, and steroids are immunosuppressants. Although it's used to reduce swelling in sufferers' nasal passages to facilitate breathing through the nose, Paul's theory was that the short term comfort wasn't worth damping down my immune system when it's vital for it to be fully functioning to battle this particularly virulent virus.

I got curious about the relationship between steroids and viral infections and accidentally came across a concerning post in Phoenix Rising, an ME/CFS (myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome) online discussion group and forum. 

I have at least two friends who suffer (and suffer is the key word) from ME/CFS and another friend who, like us, also came down with a horrible viral infection and was prescribed steroids, so I thought I'd pass along a link to the article.

Click on the link below to go to the discussion page.

Corticosteroids (Steroids) Such as Prednisone Given During an Acute Viral Infection May Cause ME/CFS. 

Dr John Chia has noted that corticosteroids given during an acute viral infection seems tobe a recipe for precipitating ME/CFS.

That is to say: acute infection + corticosteroids = ME/CFS

In this presentation, Dr John Chia talks about the factors and events his ME/CFS patients report just prior to them developing ME/CFS.

One factor that Chia says he hears of hundreds of times, occurring just prior to the onset of ME/CFS, is that the patient was given corticosteroids (steroids) such as prednisone or prednisolone at a time when the patient was acutely ill with a viral infection.

Click here to go to the entire discussion page.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Do not come down with this

"I am sick and tired of being sick and tired." — Fannie Lou Hamer, American voting rights activist and leader in the Civil Rights Movement

AS OF today, I have been sick four weeks. Seriously. The Halloween costume picture not withstanding. 

And Paul, too, although he's made more of a recovery than I have.

Paul got sick Sunday night, October 8, but insisted he could and must live through a photo shoot we had previously scheduled in Council Bluffs for the next day. It was extremely windy, and there we were climbing around for hours and hours on various bridge construction projects.

That was a Monday. I left Paul home sick in bed on Tuesday while I went to work, and by the time I drove home I knew I was doomed to suffer the same fate.

The following Saturday, although he was just as sick as I was, Paul took me to urgent care where they kept me for four hours. They x-rayed my lungs, drew blood for a white cell count, did a nasal swab and a breathing test. Everyone who came in to perform a test or procedure said, "Wow, you look terrible."

I wasn't offended. I did look terrible, and I felt even worse. It was validation. They see sick people every day, all day long, so I figured I must be really, extra, extremely sick.

Not influenza A or B; not bacterial. Some unknown virulent virus which they said would take two to three weeks to recover from. Well, today it's four.

Paul said that this virus has attacked every tissue system in our bodies.
  • Fever and chills ✓
  • Soar throat; holy buckets ✓
  • Sneezing; fits of it four and five at a time ✓
  • Blinding headache; Paul's much worse than mine ✓
  • Swollen glands ✓
  • Pain; the bones in my face hurt so badly that it felt like I'd smashed headfirst into a brick wall ✓
  • Eyes swelled up and crusted over; three weeks at least ✓
  • Intestinal distress; Paul, but not me ✓
  • Unrelenting cough; I coughed so much and so hard I threw my back out ✓
  • Excruciating back pain for at least eight days (see above), but fortunately Dr. Deb fixed me last week ✓
  • Chest congestion; Paul much more than me, he was asthmatic as a kid, so he's rather more prone to it  ✓
  • Constant running nose; we've gone through a dozen large boxes of tissues ✓
  • Laryngitis; me worse than Paul, I couldn't talk at all for two weeks and still can sometimes only squeak ✓
  • Weight loss; me again; I lost four pounds which puts me today at 95.8 ✓

A week ago, I believed that I could see light at the end of the tunnel, and I went into work for about three-quarters of the day. I also thought I'd be able to wear my costume the following day for Halloween and go to work, and I did. But it was too much, and I relapsed the next day. 

Today I'm maybe, maybe back to where I was a week ago, seeing a little light at the end of the tunnel.

One might be tempted to think that we must have picked up this awful virus in Europe, and indeed as we were boarding our plane in Brussels, the young woman ahead of us in line, was clearly ill. But viruses just don't incubate for three weeks. Nope, we contracted it here at home, Paul thinks possibly at the last Turner Center Jazz Orchestra concert. The timing is right for it, anyway.

One unforeseen outcome of this miserable sickness is that Paul and I have bonded even tighter and stronger than before. It might be hard to suppose that two people who work together and live together 24/7 could get any closer than we already are, but so we have. 

When everything else is stripped away, all the doing and going, and going and doing, all the busyness and lists of things that must be done, you realize that so many of the innumerable distractions that seem so important at the time, just aren't. The world shrinks, and there's just that one you love, who loves you, the mutual comfort of one another's presence, the perfectness, despite all else, of being together. 

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Happy Halloween

“Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.” — William Shakespeare

HALLOWEEN is my favorite holiday. I get to be wacky and still be considered perfectly normal. Paul and I have been extremely sick for three entire weeks (more about that in an upcoming post), but I've been looking forward to Halloween since September, and I didn't want to miss it. 

So here we are as hot sauce and popcorn. FYI: We made my clever popcorn hat by hot gluing individual pieces of popped popcorn to a stocking cap. It was Paul's crafty idea; he glued about half of the popcorn on, and I did the other half.

We stopped by Paul's parent's retirement community where there was a Halloween party in progress, and a fair number came in costume. We fit right in. See what I mean? On Halloween you get to be outrageous and no one bats an eye.

PS: This was my Halloween joke for the night: "If this isn't the best costume you've seen all night, I'll eat my hat!" C'mon. That's worth a couple of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups at least.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Homeward bound

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.” — Mark Twain

AMAZINGLY, Paul and I crammed all of the seeing and doing I've shared with you over the course of the previous ten posts . . . into a single week. We left on September 13 and flew home from Brussels on the 20th.

This eleventh and final post is intended as a sort of wrap-up, a mélange of general observations, impressions and other oddments noted as we traveled the northwest quarter of Belgium, known as Flanders, and stuck our toe into the Netherlands.

Before we get to that, let me just say in all sincerity: OH MY GOD! I thought we'd never make it from Bergen op Zoom to the Brussels airport, certainly not in one piece!


It's not possible to adequately describe the frightening, frustrating journey of a mere 83.5 kilometers (51.88449 miles) from BoZ to Bruxelles-National in such a way that anyone who wasn't along for the ride will get it. It was literally the stuff of nightmares . . . as in Paul had literal nightmares after we were home about making that drive. It was that harrowing, and it took hours!

Narrow, congested streets jammed with bumper to bumper cars, trucks that were entirely too big for the road even if there were no other vehicles, a phalanx of bicyclists, innumerable scooters weaving in and out, and pedestrians.

Do I exaggerate? Au contraire mon ami. Brussels is listed, depending on which survey you consult, as the city possessing either the eighth- or fourth- or second-worst traffic in Europe, and the survey that listed Brussels as number two, lists Antwerp as number four. Remember, we were traveling from Bergen op Zoom through Antwerp to Brussels, and Belgium in general is listed as the country with the worst traffic in all of Europe. Whee!!

They drive fast, and they drive aggressively. The thing I appreciated most about where we live when we returned home is that by and large, most people obey most of the driving laws most of the time.

When I hear people blather on about having "too much governmental regulation" — I want to shake them. The only reason that utter chaos doesn't exist on streets and highways is because there are lots of specific rules about where, how fast and in what way we're allowed to drive. If everyone follows them, we all get to where we're going in an orderly, safe manner. (You'd think that Americans would be smart enough to see how that applies to government in general.) On the other hand, public transportation in Belgium is fantastic: subways, trains, street cars, buses — and people bicycle everywhere. 

In case you're wondering what Europeans think of the United States these days, pretty much to a person they seem to think that America has lost its collective mind. Can't say as I blame them. That's precisely why we had to take a break. 

We could tell that our host, Pieter, didn't want to dis the US — wouldn't be a gracious way for a host to make his guests feel welcome — but after he got to know us better, he confided that as insane and frightening a face as the United States presents to the world now, the individual people who come to visit Belgium from the US "aren't like that."

He made an insightful point. Pieter thinks that people who are cosmopolitan and inquisitive enough to spend time and money traveling to other countries, experiencing other cultures, self-select as open-minded, respectful and intelligent, in contrast to the uneducated, nationalistic, ethnocentric saber-rattling buffoon we (didn't) elect.

Pieter is a perfect example of what it means to be a citizen of the world. Whenever someone from the United States is a guest, he gets on the internet and reads all about where they're from. Before we'd even checked into our room, he wanted to know what state and what city we call home and found both on a map. The next time we saw him in his office, he had all sorts of information pulled up about Iowa's topology, weather, agricultural base and economy, as well as pictures of Des Moines.

Belgium seems to suffer from a bit of an inferiority complex. One of the most surprising things about our time spent there was that pretty much down to a person, local residents who asked us where we were headed were incredulous to learn that we came to Belgium expressly to see Belgium  . . . that we hadn't flown into Brussels merely as a jumping off point for somewhere else: LondonParisAmsterdam, somewhere else, anywhere else . . . and that we had no other reason to have to be there

I came across this quote in the Lonely Planet about Ghent“Here hides one of Europe’s finest panoramas of water, spires and centuries-old grand houses. And it seems the Belgians forgot to tell anyone.” I believe that could be said of the whole of the country. 

Aside from the traffic, which I may have complained sufficiently about (but maybe not, so don't get me started), Belgium felt surprisingly homelike even with all the unreadable signs and two or three unfamiliar languages being spoken around us. Paul pointed out that part of it is the terrain. Flanders is flat, and farmers there raise many of the same crops we do. The towns and cities felt 'foreign' in that many parts of them are so very old, but the countryside looked like Iowa.

I read an interview with Howard Liebman, Chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in Belgium. Born in L.A., and raised on Long Island before moving to Belgium 38 years ago, he said that Americans have a mind-set in common with the Flemish which made him feel at home right away. I'd have to agree that there is some sort of intangible shared world-view with America, at least the America Paul and I and our parents grew up in. Can't vouch for it now.

Besides a general like-mindedness, there's a historical basis for Belgians feeling kinship and gratitude toward the United States. During World War I, the arrival of the American Expeditionary Force tipped the balance in favor of the allied forces towards the middle of 1918. 

Americans also helped change the course of World War II when our forces came to fight in Europe and in Belgium in particular. There are 13,344 American WW II service members buried in Belgium, compared to 8661 British and 2516 Belgian soldiers.

Almost without exception, people were extremely gracious to us everywhere we went . . . although a bit less so in Bruges. You may recall that Paul and I were not very favorably impressed by Bruges. We found it to be too touristy for our tastes; it was also the only place where shopkeepers and restaurant personnel were somewhat impatient and impersonal. I had the feeling that when they looked at us, they saw dollar signs instead of individuals. The food was extremely overpriced, and the servers blatantly asked for tips.

Paul had done his homework before we left and learned that in Belgium servers are paid respectable wages, so they don't need or expect tips to compensate for, as is the case at home, the below minimum wage that food service workers earn. Restaurant checks and receipts don't even have a 'tip line', and nowhere did anyone try to wangle tips except in Bruges where restaurant personnel bluntly asked for them. I have a strong suspicion that they only 'asked' Americans, who they figured wouldn't know any better.

On our flight from Reykjavik to Brussels I sat next to a lovely and likable young woman named Nora, who was on her way back from a couple of weeks' stay with friends in Canada. She's a college student who plans to go on to law school and afterwards get her dream job . . . working for the European Union. Nora is a passionate, outspoken proponent of the EU

Although the EU has no official capital, with Brussels' long history of hosting official European Union seats within its European Quarter, it's considered the de facto capital. Just another thing I would never have known if we hadn't traveled to Belgium.

Nora graciously guided us through the labyrinth of restaurants and designer shops that make the Brussels airport as much a high-end shopping mall as an airport. Nora, who is a tall, well-grown, mature-looking young woman, strode with long, confident strides through the the twists and turns of Bruxelles-National, explaining to us that, yes, ever since the 2016 terrorist bombing of the airport, there are always soldiers present armed with machine guns and dogs on leash. When we reached the barricaded area where friends, family and transport drivers await passengers, Nora caught sight of her mother, and her face lit up like a five-years-old's. She shouted "Mama" in full voice, ran to her mother and threw herself in her mom's arms. It was unbelievably adorable.

One final tidbit; remember in the very first post in this series, I mentioned that the photo of us at our gate in the Chicago airport was taken by a monk, and I said that I'd say more about him and his order later? Here ya' go. 

The brother who took our picture was British. I'm not sure where the brother (in the religious order sense of the word) who was traveling with him was from. They were on their way from working in Wisconsin to some new mission in Europe. They both wore coarse-cloth, brown, hooded robes, heavy socks and sandals. 

One reader guessed they were Trappist monks. Nope, they're from The Community of Saint John, a very recently established order. Who knew there were orders of monks still forming as late as 1975.

Below are some of my favorite pictures from our week's trip.

The view from our room, Brussels

Panoramic view from our room, Brussels
Grand Place, Brussels

Cinquantenaire Park, Brussels

Saint Bavo Cathedral, Ghent
Ghent by boat



The belfry of Ghent

View from the belfry of Ghent




Grand Hotel de Draak, Bergen op Zoom

Bergen op Zoom

Bergen op Zoom