Sunday, December 02, 2012

Cultural Differences

I love Chicago.

Interesting conversation with a man from Vietnam yesterday. We were discussing various SE Asian atrocities committed by oppressive governments. I offered the obvious cliche about people in this country not understanding or appreciating the freedoms we have.

His response was that he thinks we have too much freedom and thinks we need a bit of oppression. People under repressive regimes who do not break the rules are usually safer than most Americans. Oppression that you surrender to is not such a bad thing!

I asked him which freedoms he would take away. He instantly responded: the right to bear arms and the right to slander the sitting president.

Interesting viewpoint. If course, we were having this conversation in Chicago, not Saigon.

Thursday, November 01, 2012


I notice and appreciate guys like Brian. Every day Brian goes to work keeping the cafeteria dining room clean at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. That's what he's paid to do. He's very good at it. Tables and floors always clean.

Cleaning may be his job, but it's not his calling. He Is a warm, friendly guy. He remembers Sam and what he likes to eat. Last spring when Sam was an inpatient, Brian brought him chocolate pudding.

I'm taking a break right now while Sam watches a movie. As I expected, Brian came over to ask about Sam. But as I sat here longer, I noticed he stopped at other tables as well. He knows all the regulars at this hospital! He asks one person about a book they both are reading. He asks after family members who aren't present. He knows the conditions various people are battling.

If Brian knew I was writing this he'd probably laugh. He's not doing anything special. He doesn't think he's extraordinary. But in my book, he's a holy man. How many people's lives has he healed just by noticing and remembering they exist?

Only God knows and I bet God is smiling.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Bill Leslie in Me

 For many years we attended LaSalle Street Church and for most if those years we both worked for LaSalle in one capacity or another. I was Bill's secretary for awhile. Bill was founder and senior pastor. 
 I forget the exact number, but I think it was 480. He used to say "There are over 480 verses in the Bible that speak of God's identification with the poor but only two that speak of the virgin birth. One of those actually says a young girl shall conceive."  The point being that our priorities need to be adjusted. 
 Social Justice starts in the Old Testament and runs through the New Testament like fire. But as you read the verses you will see that God is not calling for "bleeding heart liberalism" or throwing money at the problems of the disenfranchised - although I remain a democrat - but a sacrificial communion with that population. Meeting them as equals and receiving as well as giving. 

 That kind of equality is terribly difficult for those of us who grew up entitled. I am not sure most of us at LaSalle ever truly achieved it. 
I have been the mother of a son with profound disabilities for 30 years and the wife, for close to 40 years, of a man who has been a minister, a public school teacher, a janitor and unemployed. He is currently a school bus driver. We are now impoverished ourselves and live in a community that would have terrified me 40 years ago. Yet I am still conscious that my education, my accent, my skin color, my posture and my assumptions all still communicate authority wherever I am. I am still treated with more respect in stores, restaurants and laundromats than my neighbors. When I take a friend to a hospital or doctor visit, for example, the doctors and nurses invariably speak to me as though I am the guardian or person in charge of the friend (black, Latino or disabled) who is the patient, after all.  The friend will be ignored as if invisible unless I direct the doctor to speak to the friend. What is even more disturbing to me is how often the friend is not just okay with this but seems to welcome it and readily defers to me, clearly thinking they will get better care that way.  And they are probably correct. This is one way I can be of service to my friend: to make limited use of my power as an over educated white woman without ever mistaking that power for superiority. 

In our neighborhood, we are the "go to" people whenever a neighbor has to interact with public officials. We spend a lot of time reading and filling out complicated forms and advising people regarding confusing notices they receive. It seems to me that the complication of arcane paperwork has an inverse ratio to the educational level of the recipient. It is amazing how many intrusive and ridiculous yet terrifying forms poor people must fill out!  Although it is time consuming and seems thankless, our front lawn magically never seems to need mowing and the winter Charley had surgery I never had to shovel our front walk.  Of course, Sam Care comes first and it is sometimes important to say no, but helping is what friends do for each other and we try to do what we can. 

 We will never be like our friends. We can only be ourselves as honestly and faithfully as we possibly can. We do not "bear witness to Christ" in the way most Evangelicals mean it. We simply live our difficult life along side our friends who are leading equally difficult lives and by that witness we are all transformed. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Dark Days

In the beginning (30+ Years ago), life was a continuous nightmare.  I was in denial - or still had hope - it's hard to tell the difference even now.  I thought Sam was just off to a bad start and some doctor would fix him.  Soon.  

Cynthia Stack, brilliant clinician with absolutely no compassion, put an end to that phase.  She examined him for a couple of minutes and pronounced, "Profoundly retarded, profoundly disabled and probably a dwarf," and walked out of the room. Technically, he's a midget not a dwarf.

Another doctor said, "I believe we should do everything we can for children like this until they are 3 years old.  And then, for the sake of the family, if they aren't any better, we put them in an institution."  At the time I thought, "No way."  And we didn't, but looking back I see his point.  I don't think I agree with it, but I understand what he meant.  Making the decision to keep Sam didn't feel very important at the time, it just seemed like the obvious choice.  But it was one of those Doctor Who universe-splitting moments that change the future forever.  We surrendered all hope of being "normal".  It transformed our family, it made the three of us (Charley, Ben and me) into who we are today.  I don't know if that's good or bad, it's just true.

That decision was the end of a long process of acceptance.  He wasn't going to get better.  He wasn't going to grow up.  He wasn't the little girl I thought I was carrying when I was pregnant, he was Sam.

Fast forward 30 mostly wonderful years.

30 years in which I have passionately fought for quality of life for my baby.
30 years in which I have been slowly transformed by the combination of intense joy and overwhelming sadness that being Sam's Mom involves.
30 years of sleep deprivation, worry and learning words like bilateral choroidial coloboma and ataxic cerebral palsy and central sleep apnea and cystic fibrosis-like bronchiecstasis and compensated acidosis.

Sam is the author of my world view, my faith, my politics, my personality.  When people comment on my wisdom or creativity and wonder where it comes from, I point to Sam.  Maybe these things were latent within me and Sam brought them out.  Every mother of a child with disabilities is different, every child with disabilities is different.  But the combination of Sam and me has been profound and deep. 

And now it's drawing to a close.  We're losing him.  I've always said that I hope I live longer than him because he would be so lost and helpless without me.  Now I am facing the fact that he is declining and will almost certainly die before me and I will be so lost and helpless without him.

I'm still fighting for his life, but I am coming to a new awareness of my imminent defeat.  No one knows how much longer we have together, but it's getting worse and I'm scared.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Friends are like flowers

There's a children's song that goes "friends are like flowers in the garden of life". The bridge is: Are you a daisy? Are you a rose? Are you a dandelion?


I may be getting old and curmudgeon-ish. My recent trials have left me with the distinct impression that friends are indeed like flowers. Some are just plain beautiful (like my Spred friends who helped me garden!). They need to be cultivated and appreciated. They are beautiful flowers or even healthy, nourishing fruits and vegetables!

Some are very clearly weeds and need to be dug out and composted. I am reluctant to do this with real weeds, let alone people who are destructive in my life. But it has to be done sometimes. For example, if one is a recovering alcoholic that person might need to "weed out" old drinking buddies. In my case, I am discovering that people who do not understand my situation and think I should be doing more for them than I can, are destructive to me. I like to be of use to others - but in my spare time! Not as a full time occupation or on demand. I don't actually HAVE a lot of spare time. I am very reluctant to "weed" these people out. But I have noticed that the ones that need the most help are often the ones who have very little trouble finding a new savior. I may be very expendable and not particularly important to them.

Then there is the bamboo. You can't get rid of it really. In our case, we inherited it from previous owners. I think we all have some bamboo people in our lives. These are people who, for one reason or another, you cannot get rid of, who are naturally beautiful, but who can be incredibly invasive if not contained. Building boundaries around bamboo is the hardest task facing this gardener both physically and metaphorically!

Friday, May 18, 2012


Me (with a sad sigh): I don't know what's happened.  There was a day, not so long ago, when I had a routine.  I did laundry everyday and put it away before it got wrinkled.  Your sock, t-shirt and underwear drawers were neat and organized.

Him: Is this some kind of weird woman thing where your self esteem is tied to MY underwear drawer?

Me: Well, when you put it THAT way it sounds kind of silly, but yes.

Him: Well, put your energy into something else.  I am perfectly content to have MY underwear drawer in chaos.

Me: Blank look of shock.

It IS his underwear drawer.  Even after 37 years of marriage, it's still HIS underwear drawer.  My value as a person really shouldn't be based on whether or not his jocks are folded.  Should it?  His mother IRONED not only boxers but briefs.  But I'm not his mother.  I'm his partner.

I've known him since I was 15 years old.  But lately I've noticed that he's changing rapidly.  In fact, I think he's aging quite well.  When I listen to what he is saying, I'm always amazed.  The last 60 years of experience is suddenly coalescing into brilliance and wisdom.

For our 15th wedding anniversary, we took a bunch of couples out to a park that was formerly owned by a married couple who were famous for, among other things, their happiness together.  We had everyone make plaster masks of each other and then we sat in a circle and talked about the masks we put on those to whom we are closest.  It is a sort of short hand caricature of who that person is, or was the last time we looked.  For a relationship to grow, we each have to be willing to release our partner from the stiff, plaster masks we create for them, and see them for who they are this minute.  Then we took of each other's masks and promised to see the real beloved.

Lately, he's busting out of his white plaster cast in strength and beauty.  I really like him in living color!  I was giddy in love with him long ago.  I'm not so giddy now.  I love him with a more, um, dignified passion.  But I think I love him a lot more today than I did on our wedding day.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


It's the decisions that haunt me.  After 4 months (or 30 years) of holding Sam's life in the palm of my hand, I'm worn out.  Today is the third day in a row that he didn't need oxygen during the day.  Progress or blip?  Ask me tomorrow.

Today I can't make up my mind about anything.  Brush my teeth, get dressed, take pills, make tea?  What should I do first?  Every decision seems like a life and death decision and I'm tired of making life and death decisions.  Sam woke up and then I knew what to do, feed him, give him meds, dress him, change him, give him treatments, entertain him.

But I when I went to the kitchen to get another Ensure, I found myself doubled over and crying.  Whenever I wasn't needed to take care of Sam today, I'd put on Sesame Street and go to the bedroom and cry.  I still couldn't decide anything.  So by the time Charley came home I was wearing underwear, a tee-shirt and pajama bottoms.  I had made tea, but had only eaten stuff around the house that didn't need cooking.  (string cheese, cuties, tea and cookies)

I turned Sam over to him and went back to bed for more sobbing.

I often fall apart once the crisis is over.  Maybe that's what this is.  How do I tell?  Charley suggested I go for a walk, but that means deciding where I want to go.  I can't deal with that either.  I went to the basement and found a pair of pants.

"Clinical depression or recovery?" Charley asks when I come upstairs.  I don't know the answer.  "Go outside," he commands.

It feels better outside in the sunshine.  It really does.  I see neighbors, I see green.  The sun is setting in my eyes.  I form a plan.  I will go someplace, drink tea and knit.  I pass several restaurants because it doesn't feel like I've walked far enough.

A new nail salon has opened up since the last time I left the house.  15% off Grand Opening Special.  Ok.  Manicure and pedicure.  Still a lot of decisions, but I make them without too much difficulty.
Round or square?
Toe nails bare or colored?

I make the decisions.  I sit in the chair and it massages my back.  The man cleans my feet, and massages my legs.  I go for bare toenails.  I knit while he works on my feet.  It gets easier.

Then I went into Mr. Gee's for a salad.  More tough decisions.  With chicken or plain?  For here or to go?  The place is filled with police officers.  This is reassuring.  Probably no one will die if I make the wrong choice - that's what police are for, right?  Large Greek Salad WITH chicken to go.  AND an iced tea.  Large.  Heh.  I can do this.

A day of sobbing, and an hour outside with a manicure and some progress on my knitting.  I make a decision: This is Recovery.  I need to collapse for a bit before I can go on.  But I will go on.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Confidence Booster

I was a bit alarmed when they sent us home from the hospital after only 8 days.  They were talking about 3 weeks.  But they said that I can do the same or better for him at home.  Are they right????

Well, I can "check his vitals" just like they can.  No big deal.  I know better than they do what normal for him is.  I can give him meds and oxygen just like they can now that he's off IV antibiotics.  I can feed him.  The biggest difference is: I'm one, they are many.  

And the hospital bed.  That thing requires a college level course in mechanics to operate, but it's way cool.  It can go into just about any possible position.  It's better than a carnival ride!  And it puts Sam in the perfect position for CPT (Chest Physical Therapy).  He needs to be in the right position so that gravity helps his weak muscles get the stuff out.  And you can raise it or lower it to save the Respiratory Therapist's back.  Cool.  

At home, we have an Ikea bed.  VERY low to the floor so Sam can get in and out without falling.  (Hospital bed also has crib rails)  But this morning, I discovered that all you really need for proper drainage is a portable DVD player.  You put Curious George on the floor, press play and Sam scampers over to the edge of the bed, hangs his head over and thrusts his butt in the air and voila! he's in the perfect position for postural drainage.  I pull up a chair and start whacking him on the back.  He giggles.  

Maybe we are better off at home.  I can sleep without fear that six doctors in white coats will hear me snore and watch me drool.  That's gotta be good.

Friday, March 23, 2012


Waking in a strange place, groggy from too little sleep, I can't remember where I put my glasses.  So bleary, groggy and frustrated, I begin to pat around; hoping I can find them with my hands rather than my feet.  Disoriented, I am not sure where I am, but I know where Sam is.  I don't need to see to find his beloved head and check that he is breathing and the tube is still in his nose.

He is okay.  The world shifts into place.  I remember that I carefully placed my glasses under the couch so I wouldn't step on them.  Now I can see well enough to attach the monitor to his finger and check his heart rate and oxygen level.  Yeah.  He's okay.

I slept on a mat on the floor by the couch.  Sam's sleeping on the couch, the oxygen tube still in his nose.  I'm in my own living room.  I remember Charley carefully not stepping on me as he went to work.

Time for tea and then I'll start his nebulizer treatments again.  I have to give the first one before he wakes up in order to get enough in each day.  He's not eating, I have to try to get him to eat something before 2.  He takes his next pill at 4 and he can't have any milk products between 2 and 6.  I never realized how large a percentage of the things he will eat are milk based - even Ensure!

Got a fabulous new cookbook called "I Can't Chew." It's full of nutrition advice and recipes for people with chewing and swallowing problems.  But I'm too tired to read it.  I'm too afraid I'll lose Sam before I have a chance to try all the recipes.  I look at the cover and go back to the trashy novel.  Or knit.  I thank God for yarn and trashy novels and tea when Sam is sick.

Two nights ago, I was sure he was sick enough to be admitted.  But, since I've been through this so often, I knew it was better to wait for the doctor's office to open than to call or visit the ER in the middle of the night.  You wait in the comfort of your own home instead of in a cold, hard waiting room chair.  But I couldn't sleep because I was so worried.  So I started packing my overnight bag.  At 8:45 I called the office, at 10 the doctor called me back.  After listening to my experienced, coherent report, she said, "Well, it sounds like you have everything under control.  I'll call in a prescription and, if he doesn't turn around in a few days, you should bring him in."

Under control?  I wouldn't describe it that way.  But it's a new day.  I found my glasses without the aid of my sight.  The tube which feeds air into Sam's lungs didn't get wrapped around his neck and strangle him in the night.  I don't have to think about what to wear, I'll just grab something from the overnight bag still sitting on the chair.  Himmat taught me how to make good strong Indian Chai recently.  On the whole, it's going to be a good day.

Monday, March 19, 2012

All's Well

Y'know there's lot of people who think Shakespeare was more than one person because his plays are so inconsistent.  Some are incredibly great and some are obscure for a very good reason.  I'd think this was a good argument if I wasn't so aware of my own track record on the issue of consistency.  

Still, there are some pretty dumb plays.  One that really bugs me is "All's Well that End's Well".  Helena is this really amazing woman who dares to become a physician and stand up to the King and his male doctors with really intelligent arguments.   And she heals the King when no one else can.  Her fee is to be married to this guy, Bertram, who is a liar and a womanizer and a braggart and a spoiled rich kid.  The story revolves around all the incredible things she does for his sake and, in the end, this sleaze ball says "Oh!  Okay.  I'll be married to you."  At which point I want to shake Helena into the 21st century.  How many minutes after the play ends does Bertram wander off with someone new?  Still... "All's Well That Ends Well"  which title may indeed Shakespeare throwing up his hands and saying, "The play is lousy but the rent is due."

ANYWAY.  As a writing exercise, I've been trying to write an outline of a book that follows the basic story line but makes it plausible for Helena to wind up with Bertram.   Here's a rough outline.  It takes place in the Vietnam Era, I think.

Add your comments below.  Maybe we'll write a best seller together!

 Helen didn't remember her real mom. When she imagined her, she always looked like Connie; her foster mom since her dad died. She remembered her dad alright. He was a brilliant doctor who couldn't cure himself. A loving dad who never the less left her all alone in the world. How lucky she was to have landed on Connie's doorstep after she became an orphan at age 12. Connie was a great foster mom. She always had several foster kids living with her. Some just stayed for a week or two and some stayed longer. None of them stated as long as Helen had. That was partly because there was no place else for her to go and no one else who wanted her.  But Connie and her son, Bert, took her in and put up with her grief and anger at the unfairness of the world and all her growing pains. They were great. By the time Helen was a junior at the local high school Connie and Bert were her family and she was helping the other foster kids settle in and transition out. She also had developed a major crush on Bert. He treated her like his little sister - sometimes great and sometimes rotten - but she never wavered from her belief that he represented the ideal and he featured prominently in her young fantasies.

Bert was very popular. Captain of the basketball team and student body president with grades just good enough to get him in a local college. Helen had a strong math/science aptitude and was the kind of girl that teachers and parents adored but peers tended to forget existed. Connie helped her apply for scholarships and she went off to university where she majored in pre-med and eventually graduated at the top of her class in med school with offers from all kinds of great hospitals. Even though she stopped being a ward of the state at 18 she still made a point of spending every holiday with Connie, who was getting older and taking in fewer foster kids.  Helen planned to start sending her money once she decided which position to take. Bert, in the meantime, was still enjoying life and not exactly setting the world on fire. Actually, he put out fires for a living. It made enough for him to live on and he liked the opportunity to stay in shape. The hours were another plus. He could easily work in long leisurely weekends with beautiful women but had a very convenient explanation for why he couldn't commit to a long term relationship. Helen still found him irresistible and he still thought of her as a scrawny kid. She eventually accepted an offer from a large hospital in the city near the town where Connie lived. It wasn't the most prestigious offer she received but the pay was enough to cover her expenses and still have plenty to send to Connie. Plus there was always the chance that she might meet Bert when she went to visit Connie.

In her first month at the hospital, Helen cures Rich Guy that no one else thought could be cured.  He gives her an antique cross which is the twin of one he gave his own daughter and sets her up in lucrative private practice.  Then he asks Bert to escort her to big society function that he was angling for invitation from Rich Guy's Daughter for. He goes hoping for chance to flirt with RG'sD  but gets there to find everyone assumes he and Helen are a couple. Rich Guy pressures him to marry Helen and he agrees to set a date rather than  jeopardize  his entre into Rich Guy's circle. He fully expects Helen to go along with the ruse and has no idea she thinks it's for real. But when Helen assumes he is in love with her he is brutally frank with her re: his "eww" reaction. She's a foster kid, no social status, cute enough but actually he secretly resents that his own mother likes her more than him. He has always had to share his mom with lots of "tramp kids" and Helen represents all if them in his mind because she stayed longest and his mom loves her. Rich Guy and daughter overhear the conversation and repudiate him for his lack of sensitivity toward H. They ask him to leave. He storms out and, finding his reputation shot, enlists in the marines saying "fine. You won. You get mom and the whole damn town"

Helen is shocked. She never knew he felt like that. She thinks if he dies it will be her fault. She resigns from her practice and joins Doctors Without Borders. She writes Connie and apologizes for usurping Bert's place in Connie's heart and says she hopes to dedicate her life to doing good to expiate the wrongs she has unwittingly done and hopes, if death is hovering over Connie's family, it will be her instead of Bert who is killed.

RG'sD inspired by H gets a job as a nurse and goes overseas.

In Doctors Without Borders she runs across L who was a foster kid at Connie's for a time but they lost track of him. L&H work side by side and become friends.  In the meantime, B finds several cronies in his unit who were at one time or another foster kids. They form a tight bond of brothers who regularly save each others' lives and B learns how much he and his mom meant to these guys. He begins to appreciate his life in new ways and to wish he hadn't been so hard on Helen. (insert adventures with Parolles and Clown here?)
While out on maneuvers, B's squad  is cut off from the unit and they take refuge in an abandoned house which explodes. Several of the guys are wounded and insurgents surround them. B defends them while medic tries to get the wounded ready for transport. (Use portions of my Dad's story here). B is wounded but keeps fighting. They are finally rescued and B is invalided back to Tokyo. He has 6 mos left in his tour of duty but because of the leg wound he assigned a desk job in Tokyo. A letter from Connie reaches him there which leads him to believe H has been killed while working with Doctors Without Borders.  In the meantime Helen and L have to go to Tokyo to get their visas renewed. They run across B in a bar. He is very drunk and the not quite healed leg wound has broken open again. He hasn't told anyone because he doesn't care. He recognizes L but not H since he thinks she is dead. He finally agrees to let them take him home. There he collapses but H and L think he's just drunk. L leaves and H makes coffee. B is really feverish from festered wound. He imagines H is a hallucinatory vision and tells her how sorry he is and how much he has come to love her. H still doesn't realize that he is sick and thinks "in vino veritas" and this is her one chance to make love with the man she has always loved.  B gives H his purple heart medal. H gives him the cross RG gave her after she took care of him.  But after they make love B falls into a deep sleep and H realizes he is feverish. She finally figures out it's more than drunk. He needs medical attention. She calls the military hospital ambulance.  Then she frantically calls L  They are not allowed on base and are forced to return to D w/B  without knowing how B makes out. B wakes up in the hospital and only vaguely remembers what happened.  RG's daughter is his nurse and is very kind to him and as he recovers he begins to connect the mystery cross around his neck with her.  Back at the field hospital H discovers she is pregnant. L convinces her it is better to return home than to bear and raise a child under the extreme conditions at the field hospital. L writes Connie without telling H and C sends joyful invitation to H to come home. Now 6 mos pregnant, H and L come back to Connie. Everyone assumes L is the father. L suspects B is the father but H wont confirm it. She is embarrassed that she "took advantage" of B because she thought he was just drunk when he was in fact delirious.  Since they don't know whether B is alive , L convinces H to let people keep thinking that he is the father.  They get jobs at the local hospital and they move in with Connie who is thrilled to have them. But they keep separate bedrooms and L starts working on some charity project with Rich Guy's daughter, who has finished her stint as an Army nurse and is back in town. They become close but there is always a wall between them because she can't understand his relationship with H. B returns home to much fanfare but seems as surly as ever. H wonders which was real -the delirious guy in Tokyo who loved her or the PTSD angry guy who now will hardly speak to her. 

H discovers that L has fallen for Rich Guy's daughter and can't keep pretending L is the father. She still doesn't know what to make of B's attitude, but she resolves to tell RG'sD that L is not the baby's father.  RG'SD doesn't know what to believe and confronts L who admits he isn't the father and almost admits he is in love with RG'SD but says he committed to stand by H and her baby and he can't abandon her. His father abandoned his mother and him when he was a small boy and she had to give him up to foster care because she couldn't take care of him. He doesn't want that to happen to H and her baby. Meanwhile C sees how unhappy everyone is and confronts H. She learns that L is not the father and that H has a memento of the real father that she is saving for the baby but H, confused by B's attitude refuses to name the father.  RG'Sd goes for a walk with B and he explains that he is in love with H but angry at her for bearing L's child and also hoping she will be happy and also thinking he is wounded in mind and body and no longer good husband material and he missed his chance with her long ago anyway because he was too stupid to see her as she really was. (whew) RG overhears and decides to intervene. (Too much eavesdropping? Well, it's soooo Shakespeare) He hosts another fundraising gala and announces that he and C have long been in love and are going to get married.  Everyone congratulates them and B comes face to face with RG for the first time since he was asked to leave the party long ago. They confront each other and forgive each other. RG sees the cross he wears and asks about it. B says it was given to him by a nurse when he was really sick and he wears it to remind himself that there is always hope. RG doesn't know what to make of this.  The cross is unmistakable.  It is either the one he gave H or the twin he gave his daughter, but which?  He and C make a speech about the importance of finding love and honesty . He calls H and L up and says he wants them to be happy so if they are truly in love he will host their wedding.  They don't know what to say. Then he calls B and daughter up and makes the same offer. They admit that they are  not in love and RG insists they are citing the cross as proof.  But RG'SD shows that she is still in possession if her cross.  C intervenes and begs H to name the real father. H brings out the purple heart and says she fears that the father of her child no longer exists. They were very much in love and exchanged promises but he was wounded and hasn't returned to her yet. She says she gave him her cross before they parted. B realizes that he wasn't dreaming and he is the father. And they all live happily ever after.


Wednesday, March 14, 2012


I have received one of those chain letters that drive me crazy.  Usually I just delete them, but this one got to me.  It starts out praising Eisenhower for ordering photos of Holocaust survivors and then it claims that England is about to take the Holocaust out of it's school curriculum to avoid offending Muslims.  

I agree that the holocaust should never be forgotten.  This misleading mass chain letter, however, is full of inaccuracies.  Here's one of many links I found de-bunking it.

But I suspected it was nuts before I started checking into it.

First of all, the British people themselves suffered deeply during WWII and remain extremely proud of their resistance to Hitler.  They are not going to forget it any time soon.  Additionally, they are still dealing with the emotional scars that resistance caused.  We are more likely to forget it than they are.  

Secondly, this letter conveniently leaves out the millions of powerless people: homosexuals and people with disabilities and other "non-Aryan" qualities, who were also victims of the holocaust. This makes me suspicious that there is an unexpressed agenda here.  Was it okay for Hitler to experiment on them?  Or is it still okay to hate them?  

Thirdly, why would Muslims find Hitler's regime offensive?  The extremist Muslims we are worried about hate Jews more than Hitler did and have more justification.  (I do not advocate jihad, pogrom, holocaust or other forms of feuding.  I'm just saying that the on-going conflict between Israel and the Muslim world is not creating mutual understanding and respect.)  I personally think the whole point of this letter is in the last line where it warns that 9/11 will soon be forgotten because Muslims find it offensive.  Which makes this a not very subtle attack on Muslims.  Is it okay to experiment on Muslims and put them in camps?  If the people in those initial photos were wearing burkas would those photos be just as offensive?  

There is so much anti-muslim propaganda in our world today that it is very difficult to listen to reason.  We only hear about the crazy people.  Who wants to be judged by the crazy people?  As a Catholic, I certainly don't want to be judged by the Inquisition or the tiny number of sick priests.  Religion is a very tricky thing.  

Finally, Ike is famous for many things, not least of which was his warning about the dangers of the "Military Industrial (Congressional) Complex" in his farewell address.  (His original draft said "Military Industrial Congressional Complex" but he struck Congressional out.  His daughter has said it was because he thought it was counter productive to offend Congress.)  Fear and inaccuracies only give that dangerous alliance more power.  The relevant portion of his speech is found here: 

"Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals so that security and liberty may prosper together."

Alert and knowledgeable.  I would add compassionate.  This letter fuels fear of Muslims and supports the Military Industrial Congressional wars against people who do not even have indoor plumbing.  I am in favor of security AND liberty for everyone.  Unfortunately, there is a balance.  Ultimate security can only be found by giving up liberty.  Give up too much liberty and you once again start to lose even security.  I worry that in this country we are letting our fears talk us into surrendering liberty for a false sense of security.  To a large degree, we have surrendered our ability to think rationally to our fears.  We have given our power to the Military Industrial Congressional Complex just as Ike worried we would.  He was a very thoughtful man and I suspect he would be very unhappy to have his reputation attached to this letter.  By fueling our fears of Muslims, this letter empowers the very people Ike warned us about.

Too often these mass mailings I receive do not seem knowledgeable, compassionate or even alert - they just seem ill-informed and scared.  They remind me of Beatrice in "Much Ado About Nothing":  "He is now as valiant as Hercules who only tells a lie and swears by it."  

Daughter of a scientist here.  My motto is "Check it out."  I will not forward anything on until I have checked it out.  If I do not have time to check something out or if I am not particularly interested in the subject, I just delete it.  This particular one, since it deals with and encourages hate and fear, upset me more than most.  So I decided to respond.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Sam's Sweater

Problem: Sam has an extremely curved back.  I take him to a chiropractor twice a month, but there's only so much he can do.  He lessens Sam's pain, helps him breathe more deeply so he doesn't get pneumonia and, hopefully, keeps his back from getting worse, but he can't fix what's already happened.

Sam's sweaters rise up about 3 inches in the back because of the curve.  This means, besides the tacky fashion statement, that his waist is often cold because sweaters that fit in front don't cover him in back OR sweaters that cover his back are too bunchy in the front.

 Although his back is also curved from right to left, sweaters seem to lie pretty straight across the back.

So I decided to knit a sweater that actually fits him.  I'm using R2 Fuzzi Felt because I have soooo much of it in my stash and because it's bulky and fast and hopefully warm.  It is 58% nylon, 16% merino wool, 20% Acrylic and 6% alpaca.  That's 22% more natural fiber than the sweaters I buy him at Kohls....

I'm taking a course at on knitting for curvy figures - by which they mean me - but I'm making Sam my first attempt at curvy knits.  (The course was a Christmas present from my DIL and son.)  My brilliant DIL suggested that I knit it from the top down so I can try it on as I go.  I bought Barbara Walker's book "Knitting From the Top" and started casting on for a v-neck raglan cardigan.  Here's where we are today:

 The offset color is where the raglan seam increases come in.  I'm not sure if I like this or not, I'm going to leave it and call it a design feature.  NEXT sweater...

But I think you can see that already the front is a lot closer to his waist than the back and also that the back is starting to be too small while the front looks just about right.  So I'm going to try increasing an extra two stitches every right side row in the back AND do a short row in the back every wrong side row.  I'll also stop adding stitches to the center front.  Each short row adds two rows to the back and with my gauge, I'll need 9 or 10 to make the 3".  I'm not sure how much wider I need the back to be.  

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Victim Impact after 7 years

Last summer I worked on a biography of my dad for the online journal Its November, 2011 issue was dedicated to my Dad. It contains a comprehensive review of his life and his profound impact on several different branches of paleontology. He continues to be deeply missed by the scientific community.

Now I have been invited to contribute to a very different kind of review: the parole hearing of one of the 5 people who ended his life. What relevant contribution can I offer to a parole hearing? It seems to me that what I have to say can best be expressed in an open letter to Ms. K.

Dear Ms. K,

Just over 7 years ago, you had a home and my dad was alive. Then, just after New Year's in 2005, you sat at your kitchen table while your husband and his associates plotted to ransack my father's home for drug money. I heard you took notes.

Mr. S claims that he told your husband and his friend to go at a time when my ailing father was not at home. This is ridiculous since he was mostly housebound. So they chose to go in the middle of the night. They succeeded in ransacking the house and savagely murdering my father.

Here we are 7 years later and I have been invited to write a Victim Impact Statement for your parole hearing. I don't know you. I don't know what the last 7 years have been like for you. I doubt that living in a Women's Correctional Institution has taught you much compassion. Perhaps you have learned to respect other people's property. Compassion and respect for others are the two qualities you need to learn. If you had either, you would never have participated in this inexcusable and horrific crime.

I understand you didn't know that my father had been murdered by your husband and his friend until a few days later. But the basic point is that you do not have the right to take other people's things just because you need more money for drugs. If you and the others had understood that basic fact, none of you would have planned to go over to his house that night in the first place.

But this is supposed to be a Victim Impact Statement. I am only one of the victims of your actions. Let me tell you a bit about what the impact of that night has been for me and for some others.

A large number of paleontologists are also victims of your rash deeds. They still miss him badly. You robbed the world of science of a unique and brilliant man.

My brother still worries everytime he goes out in public with his small children. He has become aware, thanks to the five of you, that the world is not a safe place and that he is helpless to protect the people he loves most from crazy, drug addicted people like the five of you. He copes with terror.

As for me, every year about this time, I have a very strong reaction. Sometimes I don't consciously remember that this is the anniversary of the murder, but my body remembers. I feel horribly sick or I have a night when I am utterly awake and jump at small sounds. Or I feel strangled and suffocated.

I saw the photos of what your husband and friend did to my dad and I heard the description of what it was probably like for him while he died. For a long time, I would dream it was me that it happened to and I would live through his last few moments over and over. I felt horribly guilty that I allowed him to die alone and by violence. It was his worst nightmare. I think I felt that, since I wasn't there for him when he was murdered, I could at least face the horror of his death and stand witness to it.

I think you knew that he was a WWII soldier since you wanted his Nazi memorabilia. Maybe you didn't know he had PTSD. He often had flashbacks of being a POW. I know he expected to die in POW camp. I wonder if, as he lay convulsing and suffocating, he hallucinated that he was back in the Stalag and dying. I imagine he did.

About a year after the murder, our landlady needed some work done on the roof of the building and insisted that I stay home in case the roofers needed anything. All I could think of was that the people who planned my father's murder were roofers! The first day I spent quivering and sobbing in a little ball in the corner of my living room as they pounded on the roof. I was sure they were coming in to murder me. The next day I told the roofers my fears and they assured me that I didn't need to be home for them. I spent the next few days at Starbucks.

This was about when I decided maybe I needed therapy. I have been in therapy ever since. My therapist has helped me let go of my fears, for the most part, and I rarely dream of my father's murder anymore. But only a year ago we needed a new furnace and the man who came to install it reminded me of Michael M. I completely paniced all over again. I called everyone I knew and talked to them loudly so that the installer would know that I was not alone. A good friend came over and stayed with me until he left and that really helped. But I still had trouble sleeping for the next 3 weeks because I was afraid they were going to come back in the night and murder my family the way you all did.

Any day I get mail from the Colorado State Department of Corrections is an automatic signal for my husband to order pizza because I will be in no condition to cook dinner. Yet I can't feel safe unless I know that they will keep me updated on the 5 of you.

We pay for the most expensive burglar alarm system we can afford. It connect directly to the police and fire departments and it has a “panic button.”

7 years ago, I was a confident, cheerful, happy woman. Most days I still appear to be that person. But a hard kernel of fear and mistrust has taken root inside me. It will bloom into full scale panic from time to time unexpectedly. I miss who I used to be.

I am a Catholic. Every week during Mass we say, “Forgive us our tresspasses as we forgive those who tresspass against us.” And every week when I say that one of your faces pops up in my minds eye. There is no one who has tresspassed against me more than the five of you. And I am supposed to forgive you. This makes me angry.

In the last 7 years, I have come to realize that you hurt me badly and damaged me (perhaps permanently) by your actions. But that was a one time act. As I allow myself to relive it, I am hurting myself over and over again. Some of that I can't help, but some of it I can stop by trying to forgive you. As I let go of my anger and grief and learn to forgive the five of you, I can slowly put an end to the nightmares and the terror. I must forgive the five of you so that I can stop the memories from hurting me any more. I have made some headway in forgiving the five of you for damaging me and my family so badly, but I still have a way to go. My father managed to forgive his captors and become a brilliant scientist in spite of his PTSD. I imagine he would want me to finally forgive the 5 of you so that I can be free from the damage you all did to me. 7 years has not been enough time for me or my family or the scientists to completely move on from that day.

I have no idea whether or not 7 years is enough time for you to be sufficiently punished or whether you deserve parole because I don't know what you have done with yourself while in jail. I am grateful that it really isn't my decision to make. I hope, if they allow you to move to a halfway house, you will manage to live a better life. I hope I never need to hear your name again.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Star Stuff

We've been streaming documentaries about how the universe works and physics beyond Einstein and I've been listening to Richard Feynman on Audiobooks lately.  It's fascinating stuff.  Frankly, I don't understand it at all, but it gives me lots of grist for random philosophical thoughts.

For example: I love the idea that we are made up of star matter and that the cells in our bodies are constantly renewing themselves.  I forget how fast this happens, but all the cells in our bodies are completely different from the cells we had just recently.  The man who said that mentioned how amazing it is that we stay the same even though we have no single cell in common with those we were made of a few days ago.

I've also been sorting, scanning and publishing all the slides my dad left behind.  They go back more than 60 years and there are a lot of them. I can tell you personally that MY cells have not been replicating themselves exactly for the last 60 years.  There is a big difference!  It might be a gradual evolution, but I'm definitely not the same person I was.  Looking at the photo of me beside the fossil "zebra" I found in 1965, you can easily believe that young girl shares no cell with me.

I'm clearly not the same collection of cells as this high school graduate in 1969 either.  Oddly, we have almost the same hairstyle...

You can see more of my family photos at if you are interested.

This idea that I move through the universe as a random, loosely connected, bunch of atoms with a bit of consciousness intrigues me.  This bunch of atoms will someday loose their cohesiveness and that flicker of consciousness will shuffle off this mortal coil and um do something else.  (Or not.)

This bunch of atoms I call me landed here and has been traveling through the illusion of time for a bit, but it is closer to the end of this interlude than the beginning.  I'm thinking a lot about that since my 60th birthday.

My parents both were very active into their 80's and I hope to follow in their footsteps.  My mom is still running things, but you can't deny she's slowing down.  So I think it is safe to say I probably have a few decades left in me.  But I'm about 75% done.

Or maybe I'm just 75% ready for the next big thing.