Sunday, December 18, 2011

Oh, the Sights, the Sounds, the Smells...

Here I go again--relaying tales of being an impatient in patient. 

In addition to my initial observations, captured here, I offer now the feast of the senses that a hospital stay can bring to you.

The first thing that really strikes me is the SOUNDS.  There are dings, buzzes, beeps, muffled voices, loud voices, confused voices, footfalls, cart wheels, squeaks--too many sounds to be able to convey them in silent print.  We do live in an increasingly noisy world, but a hospital adds new dimensions to the world of noise.  Most of us are accustomed to hearing cell phones.  At least when it's your cell phone, you know how to identify the sound.  In the hospital, the sounds are simply baffling.  Is that beep coming from me?  And should I do something about it.  Most of the sounds trigger a staff reaction--understandably.   We patients are tethered and monitored and an errant sound might mean we are making a concerted break for it.

Next come the sights.  While a hospital is generally a sterile environment--not in the bacterial sense, but in the artistic sense--there is plenty to see in a hospital.  There are, of course, the ubiquitous fluorescent lights.  They are on everywhere...all...the...time.  Day and night.  My bed was closer to the door, so at night, the hall light came pouring in.  I drew the privacy curtain (huh! is that ever mis-named) not so much for privacy but for a bit of light dimming.  At home, I need a dark dark dark room to sleep happily.  There are many other sights--some potentially embarrassing.  Hospital gowns are not made for modesty.  The opening in the back can fly open at the slightest provocation.  Don't even try to keep your clothing on...any care requires some skin exposure.  So, you just learn to bare what you must.

And then there's all that measuring.  Your height, your weight, blood pressure, heart rate,  lung clarity, oxygen level, water intake, urine output.  Oh, yes, you get measured.  The urine part was...interesting.  You place a small plastic contraption inside the toilet seat, and when you have finished, you either put the plastic container on YOUR shelf, or you read and record the amount.  I asked to do the latter--even converting the ounces to milliliters (why oh why didn't the U.S. convert to metric?).  Several times, I went to the bathroom only to find my roommate's container still inside the toilet seat.  

Now we come to taste--which would be food.  Only, don't count on much.  I had checked into the hospital late morning, and--when asked--told staff I didn't need lunch.  BIG MISTAKE.  Supper did not arrive until much later than I expected it.  And by then, my decision to abstain from lunch was working against me.  When supper did arrive, it was a  box lunch.  With a bologna sandwich.  On white bread.  I thought--you have to be kidding.  On a cardiac unit, a high salt, low fiber sandwich.   Oh, yes, along with  applesauce and a pack of Lorna Doone shortbread cookies.  While the remainder of meals improved a tad, I was still mostly hungry.  My roommate even remarked that she had been in another nearby hospital recently, and the food there was much better.  

One more post to go on the fascinating world of hospital care.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Hospitals--Not for the Faint Hearted

So, I just returned home last evening from spending three days in the hospital.  Never fear, it was an entirely planned hospital stay--in fact, wedged in between a trip to San Diego to visit our son and daughter-in-law and another upcoming trip to see our daughter and son-in-law.

I am a Type A personality (if such labels still exist).  Patience is NOT one of my virtues, and anything annoying....well, it annoys me.  So, when the doctor announced that my recalcitrant blood pressure, that just would not come down, despite adding new medicines, needed yet another new medicine, he also announced--and you're not going to like this.  What? I asked innocently.  Well, you need to have it administered in the hospital.  All for to monitor my heart rate.  I mentioned a while back that I was rebooted and regained my sinus rhythm.  Premature announcement, as it turned out--even though it was true at the time.  Because, dear readers, I lost my rhythm.  Humph.

New med is designed to bring down BP and to help a heartbeat stay regular.  But, every now and then, it actually causes the heartbeat to go all wonky.  Hence, the need to wear a 24 hour monitor for several days. 

Hang in there with me: I am just getting to the good part.

Hospitals, I have decided, are not places for the faint hearted, especially not if one is NOT really sick.  For three days, I felt a bit as if I had wandered into the set of making of the movie "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."

Herewith some random observations.

  • Check your modesty and need for privacy at the registration desk.  You will not need it.  You get poked, prodded, pummeled...well, maybe pummeled is a bit of exaggeration.  You have your "vitals" checked endlessly.  Even all through the night.  I would be in a sound sleep, only to hear a chirpy voice saying "Just checking your vitals" as I felt an ear probe measure temp, blood pressure, pulse.  Thank goodness that's where the vitals check stopped.  And privacy?  Nope--with a roommate (which I had) there were family visitors coming in at all times, along with a seemingly endless parade of hospital staff: RNs, nurses' aids, housekeeping, food services, social workers, the occasional chaplain, and -- is it?  It just might be a DOCTOR!  Woo hoo. 
  • Forget efficiency and speed.  Things move at a glacial pace (pre-global warming) in the hospital.  I arrived, as ordered, late morning on Monday.  Not until three, almost four hours later was my medication regimen begun.  And, since it necessitated 48 plus hours of continuous cardiac monitoring, that time made a difference.  It was not until the second day of being in the hospital that someone from the cardiac practice came to see me, and then only because my husband called a number the practice had given us.  When the doctor did arrive, he pointed out to me that "this is a hospital and there are emergencies that we have to deal with; people arriving in the emergency department, with heart attacks, etc."  I meekly accepted it, thinking all the while--that my husband's call was the proverbial squeak that garnered the dollop of grease the doctor's visit represented.
  • If you are interested in a retreat-like pace, slow deliberative moving toward an unknown goal, then the hospital is the place for you...except it's not a silent retreat.  More on that in the next post. 

Saturday, December 03, 2011

No Country for Old Men

I have just finished reading Peter Godwin's compelling memoir When A Crocodile Eats the Sun.  Part personal recollection, part political commentary, the book chronicles his father's dying and death.  Along the way, Godwin learns some family secrets and helps reconnect his father to his past.  But, what I found particularly compelling is Godwin's account of the nearly current state of affairs in Zimbabwe, the book's account ending in 2004.

As you no doubt know, I spent some of my growing up years in this country--then called Rhodesia.  I have a very fond memory of a childhood that was not usual by American standards.  When I read Godwin's account, I could travel back in memory to some of the kinds of things he is describing.

As I read along, I found myself cringing more and more, almost to the point of physical revulsion.  How in the name of all things sane can a tyrant such as Mugabe remain in power.  It is tempting, from a distance, to wonder at the inadvertent complicity of the populace in allowing him to remain in power.  Reading Godwin's account disabused me of any such thought.

In detail, he recounts the thoroughly calculating move on Mugabe's part to institute the land reallocation "plan."  So, a country which had been the breadbasket of the continent became a virtual wasteland, unable to grow enough food to feed its own citizens.  So-called war vets (from Zimbabwe's civil war in the 1980s) were rewarded with seized farms which second- and third- (or more) generation white families had successfully farmed.  The fact that many of the war vets were only in their 20s (in the year 2000), thus making them NOT war vets, did not alter Mugabe's cynical plan.  And why did he push the land reallocation?  Because he lost the election, and needed something to divert the populace so he could retain power.

Not only has Zimbabwe's productivity dropped agriculturally, but the life expectancy has also dropped from one of the highest in Africa to one of the lowest...in the world.  From a life expectancy of mid-60s some 50 years ago, Zimbabwean men now live an average of 37 years, and women 33 years.  Meanwhile, Mugabe will celebrate his 88th  birthday in February, 2012.  As Godwin notes, Mugabe is now on his third lifespan while his country men and women die after barely living a lifespan.

AIDS is part of the reason for this precipitous drop, but so is targeted denial of food supplies.  Mugabe channels food to his supporters and denies his enemies.    It is not too big a stretch to aver that "Zimbabwe is dying" as Bob Herbert wrote in a New York Times editorial in 2009.

I keep thinking about the marvelous William Butler Yeats' poem "Sailing to Byzantium."  This poem has been the inspiration for many interpretations, and has provided book and movie titles--just read through and spot them.

I have a new interpretation.  Zimbabwe is no country for old men.  And if ever there were an aged man--a paltry thing, a tattered coat upon a stick--it is the second president of this country.  And the closing of the poem speaks to that great unknown unknowable--"what is past, or passing, or to come."

No one knows what is to come in Zimbabwe.  My hope and prayer is that this, too, shall pass--and a lovely country will somehow be revived to a state wherein all citizens are valued, where life is cherished and where all old men and women can thrive.

Sailing to Byzantium
by William Butler Yeats

That is no country for old men. The young
In one another's arms, birds in the trees
—Those dying generations—at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

O sages standing in God's holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Lower the Bucket Deeper into the Well

I find my musings are coming to me fewer and farther between...thus, I post less frequently than I did when I first began blogging.  I also note I am slowly approaching 600 posts.  Perhaps that is a good time to draw to a close this venture into self-publishing.

I know that I could turn my blog into a collection of essays and self-publish.  However, I am not so egotistical that I give that thought much attention.  I am trying to save past postings, in an electronic file, so that someone--my children?--may some day re-read them.  There's a difference between being egotistical about the value of what one writes, and wishing dear ones to be able to peruse writings in their own time.  My writing is my voice.  And someday someone might wish to hear me speak again.

We--in our family--have had just such an experience.  I have shared the story of my mother's journey in the final six weeks of her life.  She died after having had heart surgery which led, inadvertently, to her acquiring a staph infection that eventually killed her.  But just before she went into the hospital, she led a seminar.  Someone taped it, and after her death, gave my father the tape.  He passed it along to me.

When I received that tape, now 20 years ago, I listened to it.  It was bittersweet to hear my mother's voice--and her laughter.  I learned things there that I had never known--for example, her favorite color was blue.  I didn't know that--such a little thing, yet I did not know it. 

Recently, we were preparing to go to the annual family reunion that my mother's family continues to hold.  Part of the event includes an auction of items on which family members might be willing to bid.  My husband had the idea to convert that tape of my mother's talk and burn it on a CD--which he did.  We made 4 copies--one for me, my brother and my sister.  And then one to take to the family reunion. 

Well, the ensuing bid between two of my cousins ran up to $30--this in comparison to other items that were bringing $1 or $2 or maybe $5.  The winning cousin, who had been named after my mother, was pleased to get the CD.  But, it turned out, my oldest cousin was greatly disappointed.  So, I asked her if she would share the bid cost, which she agreed to--and another cousin piped up "me too".  So they all chipped in, and we made 2 more copies and shipped them off.

My mother's subject--Living Fully in the Autumn of Life.  How wonderful.  And how ironic.  I am now in the autumn of my life.  And I can have my mother giving me advice and pointers.   

This year has made me more aware of my own mortality more than any other year I can recall.  The recent bout with atrial fibrillation made me think how thin the gossamer web of life is, and how fragile.  I find myself thinking, worrying, remembering, regretting, rejoicing--all at the same time, practically. 
There are still things I want to do--things that I look forward to.  So, I will lower the bucket deeper into the well of inspiration.  And keep on keeping on.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

How are the mighty fallen!

Perhaps it is no surprise that I ended up majoring in English literature in college.  While I had first intended to go into medicine, an early encounter in my freshman year with chemistry ended that goal, there was always one of my first loves waiting:  poetry.

I grew up listening to and reading the Bible--King James Version.  I now prefer other translations more, but for sheer poetry, it is hard to top the KJV command of language and its lovely poetic sounds.  So, with the unfolding news this week about Penn State University, the phrase that rushed to my mind is the title passage above--David's lament over the deaths of Saul and Jonathan.



The beauty of Israel is slain upon thy high places: how are the mighty fallen!
Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Askelon; lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph.
Ye mountains of Gilboa, let there be no dew, neither let there be rain, upon you, nor fields of offerings: for there the shield of the mighty is vilely cast away, the shield of Saul, as though he had not been anointed with oil.
From the blood of the slain, from the fat of the mighty, the bow of Jonathan turned not back, and the sword of Saul returned not empty. 
Saul and Jonathan were lovely and pleasant in their lives, and in their death they were not divided: they were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions. 
Ye daughters of Israel, weep over Saul, who clothed you in scarlet, with other delights, who put on ornaments of gold upon your apparel.  (2 Samuel 1:14-24)
Pure poetry.

If ever there were a "mighty" in our times, especially in the field of higher education, it would be Joe Paterno.

My husband and I have gone to Penn State football games for YEARS!  We began attending these rites of fall when a friend of ours offered us tickets for several games.  We eventually built up enough points to be able to buy our own tickets.  So, we got 4 season tickets--and another friend gave us a parking pass right next to the stadium--we were set.  We took along friends and always had a grand time watching great college football.

We even went to what turned out to be the second national championship game, when Penn State beat Miami in Phoenix.  What a grand time.  And when Penn State joined the Big Ten and won its championship and returned to the Rose Bowl to play New Year's Day--we went to that game.

Several years ago, we decided to stop going to all the home games, and have loaned our tickets to a colleague of my husband's.  But we still watch the games on HD TV. 

And now this news.
The much vaunted defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky, who crafted the winning defensive strategy against Miami, was indicted for abusing 8 boys (and a ninth has since come forward) since the late 1990s.  In 1999, when told that he would NOT be named head coach to succeed Paterno, Sandusky took retirement.  He focused his attention on a charity he ran, called The Second Mile, which he founded to give at-risk children a better chance in life.  All the boys in this unfolding scandal were ones who came into contact with Sandusky through The Second Mile.

 The Penn State connection to this story is that a current assistant coach, while he was a graduate assistant, had inadvertently come upon Sandusky in the Penn State locker room showers and CAUGHT Sandusky, mid-abuse of a young boy.  The graduate assistant, shaken, retreated and went to talk with his father, who said--tell Paterno.  The graduate assistant did.  Paterno told his superior in the university, the athletic director, who in turn told the vice-president, who in turn told the president.  And, there, it seems, the trail stopped.

The current furor now is why didn't Paterno do more?
Who knows?  I really have no answer.

But the consequences for this grand old man of football--who has all his life lived by a personal ethical code par excellence, who has insisted his players graduate, who has lived in the Penn State community for decades, who has a listed telephone number and a published address, who has given millions of dollars to his university--this grand old man has now fallen.

Should he have been fired?  Should the other three university powers have been fired, as they were?  Should the graduate assistant have told ONLY his father and his coach?  On and on the questions go.



And all we are left with is the sinking feeling--HOW THE MIGHTY HAVE FALLEN!

Saturday, November 05, 2011

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

With apologies to the Bard (who, by the way, DID write the plays of Shakespeare), I find myself speaking that portion of Hamlet's most famous soliloquy quite a bit these days.  I am in the midst of a bout wrestling with sleep.  


Since both my husband and I are now retired, and thus can pretty much live to our own body clocks, we have discovered we have different internal clocks.  My husband has always been an early riser--and now, even though he need not rise early, he continues to do so.  He winds down in the evening--so, don't even think about beginning a discussion after--say--9 p.m.  His mind is sufficiently wound down that anything that revs up the adrenaline is counter-productive.


I, on the other hand, have discovered that I am a night owl.  Try as I might, I cannot wind down much before midnight.  Even if I get sleepy earlier in the evening, the MINUTE I get up to do the final evening chores (e.g. emptying the dishwasher) I am AWAKE.  After I get ready for bed, and settle down in bed to read--I can read, get sleepy and turn the light out.  Even so, I still almost always take at least a half an hour to fall asleep.


But several times, of late, that half hour has turned into hours.  I had one night recently where I was still awake at 4 a.m.  I really can't figure it out.  Oh, occasionally, I know I have had a bit more caffeine than I should have.  But we have changed our coffee habits--partly to help me.  I now drink my diet Pepsi sans caffeine.  And in the evening, I have ONE cup of coffee--that is half caf/half decaf.  


Frankly, I chalk it up to aging.  Just as "other things" change as we grow older, no doubt our ability to sleep changes too.  


I mostly keep in good spirits--I figure, well, I can get by on 6 hours of sleep, or 5, or 4...You can see how the night goes, as my mind keeps bouncing around, careening off the walls of my skull.  


I think I'll start reading every time I can't sleep.  At the current rate, I should be able to whip through several novels a week!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Poisoning Democracy

I have just finished reading the excellent article by Jane Mayer, which appeared in a recent New Yorker magazine.  Entitled "State for Sale," the article chronicles the activities of Art Pope in North Carolina where he has successfully taken over the state legislature. How? you might ask.

Well, he bought enough Republican seats to change the state legislature in North Carolina--a state that voted for Barack Obama in 2008, and where both houses of the state general assembly had not been controlled by ONE party for a hundred plus years.

Here's how the article opens:  "In the spring of 2010, the conservative political strategist Ed Gillespie flew from Washington, D.C., to Raleigh, North Carolina, to spend a day laying the groundwork for REDMAP, a new project aimed at engineering a Republican takeover of state legislatures. Gillespie hoped to help his party get control of statehouses where congressional redistricting was pending, thereby leveraging victories in cheap local races into a means of shifting the balance of power in Washington."

The basic strategy was to go after elected officials and paint them as too liberal.  Throw enough money at something, and you can change people's minds.  And that's exactly what happened.

This strategy has eerie echoes of the current efforts of the Koch brothers.  In another New Yorker article--titled "Covert Operations"--Jane Mayer had also chronicled the Koch brothers' rise in political financing circles.  These billionaire brothers have set up various foundations which primed the pump by funding the "grassroots" rise of the so-called Tea Party.  No wonder some pundits refer to the Tea Party as an AstroTurf movement. 

Along about now, are you wondering--so what?  As the Mayer article on Art Pope unfolds, you learn that the tactics used were to target Democrats, throw buckets of money into ad campaigns that smeared these candidates and spread misinformation about them.  In one instance, a candidate who had dark hair and dark skin was identified as Hispanic.  The Pope money helped fund a campaign ad that showed the candidate with a sombrero and a tag line of "Mucho Taxo! Adios, SeƱor!"

What makes this disturbing trend of excess money being thrown into political campaigns is the recent Supreme Court decision on Citizens United.  You can follow the link to Wikipedia to read the basics of the case, but in brief the Supreme Court held that corporations WERE people and had First Amendment rights to free speech.  Thus, the Federal Election Commission could not limit the amount of money corporations could spend on political campaigns.  The result of this decision is that the election process is being flooded with money, with the sources largely untraceable, as reporting requirements do not apply in many instances.  One news commentator noted that another country--say China--could throw huge sums of money at a campaign to turn the outcome of an election in its favor on an issue such as environmental deregulation. 

The result of this convergence is, I fear, a poisoning of democracy.  Of course voters should be better educated.  Of course people should do their homework before they mark a ballot for a candidate.  Of course people should ignore ads that misidentify someone as Hispanic (never mind the so-what response that we really should give to such an identification).  We have lost far too much of our critical thinking skills as it is--can democracy really survive as a political system when the electoral process is so polluted by far too much money?

A recent Writer's Almanac included a quote from our second president, John Adams: "Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself. There was never a democracy that did not commit suicide."

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Our Bodies, Ourselves

40 years old!  It's hard to believe that 40 years ago, a group of women got together and wrote a small pamphlet which helped alter women's awareness of their bodies.


Titled appropriately Our Bodies, Ourselves, this booklet dealt with subjects that were taboo in the early days of women's liberation.  It talked about human sexuality in frank straightforward terms.  It gave detailed descriptions of the types of birth control available.  And it used rudimentary drawings to show female anatomy.


Hard to believe that such information was revolutionary, but it was.  I bought one of the first versions of this booklet--a newsprint paper version that did not hold up well to constant consultation.  Then I got an upgraded version with a more substantial cover that helped the book weather all the use.


I soon got one to give to my sister, who is 12 years my junior.  As I recall, my sister took her copy and disappeared into her bedroom for hours.  Since at that time, she was a teen, no doubt she too was learning things she had not known about her body, herself.


When I had a daughter, and when she was a preteen, I gave her a copy.  She too took her copy and disappeared into her bedroom for a time.


One of the things my parents did absolutely right in raising me was to always be very straightforward when it came to talking about human sexuality.  This booklet was written in that same vein--straightforward information.  Truth is always better than myth.


As our children were  growing up, my husband and I likewise were very straightforward with them.  Inevitably, both our son and our daughter, as they grew up, asked the inevitable questions:  "How did I get to be born?"  Many parents have that experience--it is even the subject of comedy.  Mothers or fathers tongue-tied, unable to tell their children in direct language about human sexuality.


Well, that was not us.  We always used correct terms, completely avoiding euphemisms.  I recall one day when a neighbor several houses up the street from us asked me if we had told our son "about sex."  Of course, I said, why?  Because, she said, their son (about the same age as our son) had asked them something he learned from our son.  Well, I said, haven't you talked with him? Oh, no, she said, he's too young.  My response--if he's asking his friends, he's not too young.


So, many many thanks to the women of the Boston Women's Health Book Collective.  I just hope that we don't lose all the gains of women controlling their bodies, their selves, in the next 40 years.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

DAY TRIP--Fallingwater

(this photo is from the Wikipedia page on Fallingwater--all the others were ones I took during our day trip)


Our next day trip covered a few more miles than the one to Hawk Mountain.  We decided to go to Fallingwater, a place neither of us had ever seen.  Fittingly, this lovely house (but, oh, so much more than a house) is a U.S. National Historic Landmark, as well as being on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.



The day began with most unpromising weather--yet another day of rain.  We drove across the PA Turnpike in a pouring rain that made driving anything but a delight.



Just as we reached Fallingwater, the clouds began to clear and snippets of sunshine peaked from behind the remaining clouds that were reluctant to leave.



Autumn has finally arrived--the leaves were not quite as bright as I had hoped.  Autumn is my favorite time of year--and I look forward to the splashy displays of vermilion, yellow, and orange.  There is just enough color now to satisfy me.



After checking in at the Visitors' Center, we waited for our tour group number to be called.  Then we walked down a crunching gravel path to Fallingwater.  



No photographs are permitted inside the house, so I had to content myself with views from the outside.  



A little history is in order.  Anyone who grew up in western Pennsylvania knows the name Kaufmann's Department Store.  For decades, this department store was the height of upscale shopping.  This downtown Pittsburgh store was the kind of place people got dressed up to visit.  Maybe you remember the days when department stores had ladies with gloves operating the elevators.  Kaufmann's was that kind of place.






By the time Edgar Kaufmann, Sr. was running the store, the Kaufmann family had a country retreat location on Bear Run, some 76 plus miles southeast of Pittsburgh.  They wanted to have a house built on the location.  Through various contacts, Edgar Kaufmann engaged the services of Frank Lloyd Wright.  He fully expected that Wright would design a house that would face the lovely view of the waterfalls.  Imagine his surprise when Wright's design called for the house to be built OVER the waterfalls.



What followed is a well-known story of twists and turns in the building process.  Not only was the location a surprise, but the design itself was revolutionary.  Wright called for cantilevered reinforced concrete balconies  that were the primary features of the house extending over the waterfalls.  The conversation flowed back and forth between Kaufmann and Wright.  Some of the controversy swirled around whether or not Wright's design could, in fact, be built.  Of course, eventually it was. 



When Kaufmann Senior died, his son Edgar Kaufmann, jr. (who, for some reason, insisted on the lower case j for jr.) inherited some of his father's wealth along with Fallingwater.  The son Edgar was an only child--and, as it happened, he was also gay.  He never married, though he did have a long term partner.  Since Edgar, fils, was childless, he made plans for Fallingwater to be deeded to Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, which occurred in 1963.



The house was, in many ways, a glorious failure.  While it was being built, the soundness of design was the subject of constant communication between Wright and Kaufmann, Sr.  Eventually, during the 1990s, the house had to be reconstructed to shore up the cantilevers.  The last work, which finally appears to resolved the structural problems, was done in 2002.


While the house was being built, Edgar jr. joined the fray, defending Wright.  It is telling--at least to me--that when Edgar jr. was selecting a career, he eschewed retail altogether, having no interest in the life of running a chain of department stores.  His passion?  Art.  He studied during the 1920s  at the School for Arts and Crafts at the Austrian Museum of Applied Arts in Vienna.     He also was a residence apprentice in architecture at Wright's Taliesen East school in the mid 1930s.


Edgar jr. went on to become the  Director of the Industrial Design Department at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.  He also authored a book on Frank Lloyd Wright.



What a day trip.  Not sure if we have energy for another such trip this autumn, but if we do, I will surely let you know.

Friday, October 07, 2011

DAY TRIP--Hawk Mountain


While my husband and I enjoy traveling, usually when we talk about a trip, we mean A TRIP—you know, somewhere away that takes multiple days. For example, we could travel to San Diego or to London.


What we have not done as much of is take day trips. Pennsylvania, where we live,offers a number of delightful destinations for day trips. And October is such a lovely time of year in the northeast, where leaves turning brilliant colors make a perfect backdrop for a day trip.

This week we set out for Hawk Mountain. We have been members for years, maybe even decades, but have never traveled there.


The story of Hawk Mountain is one of the power of individual effort and the need to respect and preserve nature. It began with a young man named Richard Pough who had recently graduated from college. He was a budding conservationist. Having heard of a place near Reading, PA called Hawk Mountain, he decided to visit.


At that time, the Pennsylvania Game Commission had placed a bounty prize on the heads of goshawks--$5 a head. The thinking was to eradicate any predator in the wild, including birds. (It is a huge irony that humans, the greatest predators of all time, would make such a determination to try to exterminate other predators.)


Pough* found a scene of incredible destruction—hundreds of raptors shot dead by hunters. He returned the following weekend with a camera, gathering up the dead birds which he lined up and photographed.


The photos helped galvanize other like-minded people, including a New York philanthropist named Rosalie Edge. She had the means to secure the land around Hawk Mountain. She first leased it, and 1934 she installed a warden to keep hunters away.



Within a year, all hunting there had ceased. She went on to purchase the 1,400 acres and the next year opened the Sanctuary. She then deeded the site to Hawk Mountain Sanctuary which incorporate in 1938 as a non-profit organization. Today, the bulk of funding for the place comes from member support.



That makes Hawk Mountain the world’s first—and largest— refuge for birds of prey.



Why Hawk Mountain? The mountain, part of the Appalachian chain, sits right in the middle of one of the North American flyways. The sanctuary is well-developed with trails to various lookout points over the valley below.


On a clear day, such as the one we traveled on, the unobstructed view across the valley is some 70 miles. The main trail is about one third easy walking and two thirds climb over rocky terrain. One mile out to the North lookout point, and one mile back is a good walk in the woods.


We didn’t see too many raptors. The turkey vultures were out in force, riding the thermals with such ease, almost mockingly. One kept swooping in right where we were sitting as if to say “Look at me. You can’t do this.” We also saw red tail hawks, an American kestrel, and a bald eagle in the distance.


The two primary lookout points have volunteers and interns during all the hours the Sanctuary is open. They do a daily count, which you can see here. Sharp-shinned hawks, the ones most prevalent during the first week on October, were not to be seen during our trip.




Day trips? Yes, we plan more and I will photography and report on each.
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*Art Pough went on to lead an amazing life as a conservationist. He helped found the Nature Conservancy. As his obituary in 2003 notes (he lived for 99 years) he served “stints at the National Audubon Society and the American Museum of Natural History… he wrote a series of Audubon guides on birds; helped to get a law banning the sale of wild-bird feathers; became one of the first to warn of the dangers of DDT; established several important preservation groups; and inadvertently established the house finch population of the eastern United States.”


Monday, October 03, 2011

Sing Out!

When our kids were just wee, we had several tapes with children's songs. The tapes were called "Wee Sing..." There was a "Wee Sing America," "Wee Sing Silly Songs," "Wee Sing Bible Songs," and on and on with the "Wee Sing" series.

Many of these songs were ones I knew, and had sung as a child. Some I did not know, but had great fun learning. I learned new favorites: "Boom, Boom Ain't It Great to be crazy," and "Little Bunny Foo Foo." Frankly, I mustn't get started recalling all these songs. Remembering them brings a HUGE smile to my face, but it will distract me from my subject here.

Oh, just one more side-track. One favorite song was "Catch A Little Fox." You know the words:

A hunting we will go, a hunting we will go,
Heigh ho, the dairy-o, a hunting we will go!
A hunting we will go, a hunting we will go,
We'll catch a little fox and put him in a box,
And then we'll let him go!

We would play this portion of the tape, and our daughter who was around one year old would listen intently. When the chorus line came--Catch a little fox and put him in a box, And then we'll let him go!" she would sit up, and join in merrily. As soon as the chorus was over, she went back to quiet listening. We would back the tape up again and again, and every time got the exact same reaction from her. Kind of like a wind-up doll.

So, what got me off on the subject of singing "Wee Sing" songs? Well, recently I attended a church meeting. NO, no--we did not sing "Wee Sing" songs--but we may as well have. The entire church was filled, and hardly anyone used the music. Instead, the words were projected on a screen, and people dutifully read the words. Hardly anyone bothered to sing harmony, or even knew that such a thing existed.  What a let-down.

Now, I confess, if there's something I really enjoy it is singing in four-part harmony. But, if Coke ran that old classic commercial today--I'd like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony--the words would have to be changed.

We are losing--or maybe have already lost--our ability to sing in public. Certain styles of popular music seem to avoid melody at all costs. Televised singing contests, a la American Idol, have elevated harsh vocal performance to an art. I have a friend who teaches voice, and invariably when she gets new students, there's always someone who wants to sing "like they do on American Idol." My friend patiently explains that that's not singing. 


One of the most popular television shows, when I was a college student, was Hootenanny.  OK, you can follow the link and figure out my age...  This show aired on Saturday night.  It was practically required viewing on campus.  Admittedly, in the early days of television, there were very few places to watch it.  So, the college student lounge was a natural gathering place.  By acclimation, Hootenanny was the show of choice.  (And, on Saturday mornings, it was "Rocky and Bullwinkle.  Sigh, the good old days.)  Hootenanny featured many groups who did nothing but sing, sing, sing.

Think of the times now that we do sing together in public?  Don't include church.  And what do you get?  Maybe, if you attend a sports event, you sing the National Anthem--and just hope that someone isn't butchering it in the process.

I can think of a song for almost every occasion.  It doesn't take much inspiration for me.  A day without clouds?  "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning" or "Blue Skies, Smiling at Me."  A cold gloomy day "Oh, The Weather Outside is Frightful."  And so on.

I don't really know how to revive singing.  But, I think we've lost something very special.  Maybe we could start by using songbooks instead of projection screens.  We could skip watching "American Idol" and go instead to a sing-along concert.  We'd better hurry--soon, no one will remember what songs we had.

Sing out!

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Pizza King

Do you remember that great scene in "Back to the Future" when Dr. Emmett Brown doubts Marty's story that he is from the future.  So he asks him: Then tell me, "Future Boy", who's President in the United States in 1985? And Marty replies:  Ronald Reagan.
To which Dr. Brown says in utter disbelief: Ronald Reagan? The actor?


Well, folks, if the seasoned Republican voters in Florida have their way, get ready for the pizza king.  That's right.  Herman Cain WON the Florida straw poll, beating Rick Perry with 37 percent of the votes to Perry's 15 percent.

Now, I grant you, it in no way grieves me to see Perry lose.  But to the Pizza King?  (In case you have been living in a cave--which, come to think of it, doesn't sound so bad these days--you may not know that Herman Cain's SOLE claim to fame is that he was the chief executive officer for Godfather's Pizza.)

True, the number of Republicans voting in this straw poll was  2,657 people.  So 1,062 people think the pizza king should be president.  Maybe they like his 9-9-9 plan: 9 percent tax rate on personal income,  9 percent tax rate on corporate income, and 9 percent national sales tax.  The simplicity is breath-taking.  Even though no serious economist gives this plan any credence.  Oh, for goodness sake, we want simplicity. 

We don't want to have to think about anything.  And if someone tells us that something is a THEORY, well, kiss that piece of knowledge good-bye.  After all, doesn't theory mean "not proven"?  Republican candidates are falling all over each other trying to see who can "diss" science the most.  Poor Jon Huntsman (uh-oh--here's one of those inescapable word combos--you, know, like "the doomed Donner party" or "the ill-fated Titanic") took the bold stand of supporting evolution by saying "Call me crazy, but..."

But, folks, think we must.  For example, how can Herman Cain with straight face propose the simple 9-9-9 plan, when the last 9 means poor people (and everyone else) paying a 9 percent federal sales tax.  If you're poor, paying 9 percent sales tax is a killer.  A rich guy won't mind paying 9 percent on his yacht, but a poor guy paying 9 percent on food?

Or another example, how can Rick Perry say he thinks the science on global warming was rigged, when Texas is experiencing unheard of weather extremes, and is--as one analyst noted--on fire?  Literally!

Well, if Professor Brown couldn't believe that Ronald Reagan, the actor, was president, how about the pizza king? 

Oh, do you want that pizza with extra cheese or pepperoni?
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Full disclosure--the photo of the pizza?  Why, that's from Godfather's Pizza website.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Where are They Now?

Occasionally, I fall for a magazine, stacked up at the cash register of a grocery store, when it trumpets from the cover WHERE ARE THEY NOW?  Usually, there is a photo spread of stars of yesteryear, or other people in the public.  I am always curious about the paths that people's lives take.

With the arrival of social networking sites, such as Facebook, we can now indulge in our own version of "Where are they now?"  Maybe you have played this game.  After you sign up with Facebook, chase down immediate friends, relatives, neighbors, whoever--eventually you get to the point where you wonder "who else can I friend?"  (Sorry, it annoys me as much as you that we have converted yet ANOTHER noun into a verb!  After all, isn't "befriend" a perfectly good verb? Yet FB insists on "friend" as the verb form...but I digress.)

I love the graph below suggesting who finds YOU on Facebook.  Thus far that has not been my experience.  I have, however, had the experience of befriending someone who later, summarily "unfriended" me.  And, truth be told, I have done the same thing.  After all, no need to be subjected to reading updates about things which matter not on whit to me.

If you like the above graph, you can find more at GraphJam.com.

Recently, one of my Blogger friends, AC, hauled out a third grade photo, and had his readers guessing which cherub was him. That post engendered another, as he found a second grade photo as well.

That got me to musing...I know somewhere I have a fourth grade photo.  So I hauled it out.  I have only one such school photo.  Most of my elementary school days were spent in government run schools in then Rhodesia.  I don't think they took class photos there.  At any rate, in the mid-1950s, my parents returned to the U.S. for a furlough (extended vacation time).

Time enough for me to go to part of third grade and fourth grade at the Shepherdstown Elementary School.  My teachers were Mr. Meyers and Mr. Ryder.  How unusual then to have had two men as grade school teachers.  Looking at the photo, I have distinct recollections of most of the students.  One girl, standing right next to me, was named Ginny. 

I suspect every class has someone like her.  You see, her problem was cleanliness.  Or rather lack thereof.  She came to school day after day, frequently in repeat clothing.  Her hair was dishevelled, her face unwashed.  And her body odor was painfully rank.  Poor girl.  No--really.  POOR girl.  I don't know who cared for her, if anyone.  No one in class would tell her she needed to bathe, and use deodorant.  We all steered clear as much as we could.

By the time my family returned to the U.S. in the 1960s, and I finished high school, returning to the same school system, many of those third grade classmates were still there.  But not Ginny. 

Well, Facebook hasn't revealed any Ginnys to me.  I do not recall her family name at all.  And, yes, there are times when I wonder "Where is she now?"

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Knitting at the Guillotine

We are now in the season of vetting candidates for the privilege of running for President of the United States. To that end, the Republicans are holding a series of "debates" (more like sequential staged monologues...but that's another post).

When the first debate was held, hosted by NBC, Brian Williams in his moderator role prefaced a question to Governor Rick Perry. He noted that the governor has presided over more executions than any other governor in a state--whereupon the audience burst into applause and hoots of approval.

While the question and audience response clearly didn't phase Perry, it absolutely took my breath away. The visceral, red meat, blood lust response was repeated in the next Republican debate when the question was posed about someone who does not have health insurance and is diagnosed with a life threatening condition. What should we do--asked moderator Wolf Blitzer--let him die? YEAH, the audience loudly responded.

While some may quarrel with the moderators--did they ask the right question; did they ask the question the right way, etc.--I can't help but wonder: what has happened to the United States? Why such vicious uncaring reactions?

We have become a nation of Madame Defarges, sitting with our knitting at the base of the guillotine, sopping up the blood while we blithely knit away. How did it become so?

There are two thoughtful, yet deeply troubling, pieces that I have read recently. One, recommended to me by our daughter, points out the disparity of Republicans' deep distrust of government--as evidenced by the constant drum beat of every single Republican presidential candidate--EXCEPT when it comes to the death penalty. If government fouls up everything it touches--the current Republican mantra--why can't Governor Perry think, for a second, that maybe, just maybe government also fouls up and sentences an innocent man (or woman) to death? Read the Slate article for yourself
here.

The second article is one written by a long-time Republican staff person who retired after 30 years as a House and Senate staff person. In the article, titled "
Goodbye to All That," the author Mike Lofgren, meticulously catalogues the ways in which the current Republican leaders have intentionally changed the terms of the political debate. He opines that "it should have been evident to clear-eyed observers that the Republican Party is becoming less and less like a traditional political party in a representative democracy and becoming more like an apocalyptic cult."

Lofgren does not extol the virtues of Democrats--he tags them as hapless in the face of the current Republican approach. But his comparison gives one pause: in recounting the recent debt ceiling debate debacle, he notes that "everyone knows that in a hostage situation, the reckless and amoral actor has the negotiating upper hand over the cautious and responsible actor because the latter is actually concerned about the life of the hostage, while the former does not care."


Wow!

I suppose the only cautionary conclusion I can draw from this musing on my part is that, while the guillotine began as an instrument of execution for one intended victim, by the time the revolution ended, those who cheered on the executions eventually became the victims.

Knit one, purl one, repeat...