Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Back in the Hospital Again

Monday started off with Daddy, finally out in his chair, asking if he'd died overnight and had he reached 100 first? I told him I had to disappoint him on both counts. Well, in that case, he wanted something to eat. As I got dressed for work and Steve started fixing his breakfast, he kept mumbling, something ordinarily that stops once he's up and out of bed and back in touch with the world.

A couple hours later his physical therapist, Kathy, called me. She was concerned because he was still "out of it", and even mild exercise like arm lifts was shooting his pulse up to 115. She didn't even have him get up and walk. Listening to his chest, she heard rattling noises, something we'd not heard for a few months now. Was he coming down with pneumonia again? Or hosting a UTI (urinary tract infection)? After confirming with Steve that he could transport Daddy to wherever I gave him directions for, I tried to call his regular doctor.

Monday mornings are busy time.

I called Steve back and gave him directions to the St. Croix Falls hospital for their urgent care, along with a list of things necessary to do to get Daddy ready to move. It's not a simple process.
In this house, it starts with putting the dogs outside, since you don't know how long you'll be gone, and Steve's basset, Fred, is just barely out of puppyhood. There are outdoor clothes to locate, portable O2 to switch him to, the wheelchair to get him out to the car with after turning the car 180 degrees so the passenger door is accessible, the bag of pills to grab and bring along....

And after he's in the car you have to take the wheelchair back in and bring the dogs back into the house before you drive away. It's still too cold to leave them out for hours.

An hour or so later I get a call on Steve's phone. Expecting to hear some kind of update on Daddy's condition, I'm surprised to hear a feminine voice explaining to me that they've put Steve into their system as well, since he arrived so overstressed and out of breath that they considered him more urgent than Daddy and set him up with heart monitoring.

Did I need to quit work and come up there? No, everything was under control for now. And as it turned out, Steve recovered nicely with no indications of anything but stress, and Daddy was admitted "overnight" with suspicions of a UTI.

When Paul and I stopped in after work that evening, he was convinced he'd spent the last two days (his time sense is totally screwed up, a logical outcome of short term memory issues) on a ship where everybody had been partying down the hall. It had gotten so bad, he said that he'd almost gotten arrested by the police for drunkenness. But he'd walked and walked and walked until he found the door to his room and escaped from all the clamor. Each time a nurse came in he'd ask them which club they belonged to, puzzling all of them. He was concerned that I'd be mad at him and promised not to have another drink for a whole week, although by the end of our visit that dropped to no drinking until tomorrow.

As if.

Medically, they were treating him for a UTI, and hung the first bag of IV levoquin while we were there. The optimistic guess at that point was two days' stay. They were also starting the juggling act with his congestive heart failure, which showed up on the X-rays they'd taken in the ER while pneumonia hadn't. In fact they were impressed with how much better his lungs looked than on his last visit, last Thanksgiving. Yeah, no kidding.

I'd had to stop at home on my way in to pick up his advanced healthcare directive and his DNR orders for them to copy. There were some questions on his meds, the whole bag of which had come in with him. His portable O2 tank had to go home for recharging, now that he was on the hospital supply (set at 1.5 liters, later upped to 2 when his blood-ox levels weren't high enough), so by the time we walked out we were well loaded down with his things. Paul of course got the bottle and his meds, and I got the paperwork.

The one thing that occurred to me, since it wasn't covered by his pills supply and had come up since his last visit there, was to inform them of his swallowing disorder and his need for Thick-It in his liquids. They responded immediately, thickening everything about twice as much as we do at home. Amazingly, he didn't complain.

Tuesday morning when I walked in on my way to work, he greeted me with a demand of where I had been. I explained about sleep and work and how much time I'd actually been gone, and that seemed to settle him down. He's used to seeing me in the middle of the night, so I guess my absence made it seem even longer than the interminable length nights usually last for him.

What I noticed when entering the room was that his roommate was gone. Not even the bed was left. His double room was now a single. I hadn't met the roommate, since the curtain was drawn during the previous night's visit, but heard the nurses talking with him, and knew he was pretty sick. I had warned them that he'd get no sleep at night with Daddy in the same room, and my personal theory is that the roommate was moved out because he needed his sleep. Crowded as they were, they found something quieter for the guy.

Just as I was getting ready to head out the door and sign on for work, the social worker showed up full of questions about his home situation and where he should go after discharge. I knew she'd get no sense from Daddy, so quickly interrupted her with the answers to all the questions she was going to ask about how we're set up and who's watching him and how much assistance he's getting. I've been there before. I fully believe we're taking much better care of him at home than any nursing home would bother to provide, especially the 24-hour supervision. They'd poke their noses in occasionally, on their schedules, not his, and with no continuity of care/information. I already know how blind he is, for example, and wouldn't take him to physical therapy, stand him in front of a chart on the wall, tell him to do what it says, and walk away! That actually happened two years ago, and prompted our removing him from the TCU (transitional care unit) he was placed in well before they thought he was ready to leave. Had we followed their lead, he'd never have gotten well enough to leave.

I heard from Steve just after lunch, when he went in to stay with Daddy for a while and keep him company, reminding him to take liquids and assisting with supper. His first sentence was, "We have a small problem." As he'd walked in, Daddy was sitting up on the edge of his bed, trying to get out. (Somebody forgot to set the bed alarm?) Seeing Steve, he yelled at him,"Get the hell out!" When Steve asked him what was the matter, he grumbled on about he didn't want to talk to Heather, he didn't want to talk to Steve (my brother this time), we were keeping him prisoner and he was going to walk out, find his own place to live, and do as he pleased.

Oh yeah, that's going to happen. Uh huh.

Just then was time for his chest X-ray, and Steve said it took five nurses to try to get him moved. It wasn't that he was combative, exactly, but supremely uncooperative, as if he'd suddenly turned into rubber. Steve didn't report what was being said during this, but I can imagine.

We have no clue what set him off. Likely it was something from a dream. Whatever, there are benefits to short term memory issues. When he returned from X-ray, he was all sweetness and light, his usual self. Of course, now he spent the rest of the day back in WWII. Occasionally he knew he was in a hospital, but he was obsessing about whether anybody had heard the rumors that his whole unit was being deployed tomorrow, and by unit he gestured to the whole wing of the hospital. When I arrived after work, he confided to me that it was likely he'd be gone tomorrow, and questioned each nurse walking in about what they knew. I just informed him that it didn't matter what the unit did; as long as he was still sick, he was staying right here. Well, did I want to go tour the parade ground?

Uh, no thanks.

It's so hard for him to answer the phone. Even if he could see it, which he can't except as a blur, he can't reach it. We've given up trying to call in. So when I get there in the evenings, I call my brother on my cell and hand it to Daddy so they can have their regular evening chat. For two days he said nothing that made sense, but my brother is patient and listens anyway. Even when my dad is more rational, a ten minute call becomes the same three minute conversation repeated three times. Even with those limitations, he remembers that they talked and that his son cares.

Next morning when I arrived, Daddy was sleeping. I do what I usually do at home, sitting next to him and putting my hand on his, and telling him "good morning" to wake him up. Wednesday, he opened his eyes, recognized me, then looked around his room and asked, "This isn't home, is it?"

He's back! Something in his medications has been working. That was Wednesday, and this is Friday. We hoped he'd come home yesterday, now hope for today. The problem is, they're trying to find the right balance of medications to keep his blood pressure high enough to prevent dizziness while keeping his fluid levels low enough to ease his congestive heart failure. The next step in their plan is take him off Flomax, a prostate drug that has low BP as a side effect. With a permanent catheter, it seems unnecessary for him to have the drug.

With that, my growing concern is his muscle tone. He spends nearly all his day prone, occasionally being moved to a chair for short periods, like for meals. Yesterday the nurse stood him up to hold onto his walker for the three steps to the chair, then decided his diaper had a present in it that mandated its removal. Was she prepared for that? No. Was there a replacement in the room? Or a box of baby wipes? Or a medicated patch to replace the one on his backside that had become soiled from stool easing its way in from the edges? No, no, and no. Each required a quick trip for supplies, while Daddy just stood there. Even at home he doesn't just stand at his walker, and my concern for him grew, especially as he was showing his growing distress from standing. We told him to sit when he needed to, and finally he did, about two seconds before the nurse returned from her latest supply run. So of course she wanted him to stand again without much rest.

The diapers supplied in the hospital are very flat and fasten with two tapes on each side. They are perfect, I suppose, for bedridden patients. Not so much for the mobile ones. I offered to help hold it in back while she fastened it in front, after watching her struggle with it for a while. This finally got it around him, but with the first step towards the chair (finally!) it dropped to his knees.

Like Randy (county nurse) said about fastening a diaper when I was explaining this to her later in a conversation about health concerns, likely discharge dates so she can visit him at home and evaluate his care needs for the aids she supervises, and communication on issues between herself and his hospital doctor, "It ain't rocket science."

Oh well, we're bringing one of his own diapers from home for when he leaves. It's like elasticized pants with a central pad. It stays up. Along with whatever is left of his dignity.

And Now, Fed Ex

Yesterday's blog wasn't the end of the story. Lifeline's letter accompanying the label gave instructions telling me to call Fed Ex about a free-to-me pick up of the box at my door. It gave me the toll-free number, and told me what kind of a delivery to tell them I had for them.

It forgot one tiny little item.

I tried the toll-free number in the morning before leaving. It must be a very busy time for them, since I would have had to wait longer than I had time for, trying as I was to get out the door to visit Daddy in the local hospital before work. I took the letter with me to call later in the day when I had time, leaving the package outside in the entryway for easy access. On my third try I got through easily, getting someone on the line who's speech/accent was something I could actually understand. As I explained what I needed, she asked me for the middle set of numbers on the barcode on the shipping label.

Now that was going to be a problem, since the box was home and I wasn't. I needed to call back, with the label right in front of me. Otherwise I could arrange pickup, but without that number, I'd have to pay for it. With what I consider remarkable restraint, I explained that after waiting months for that label so we could get the promised free shipping, there was no way I was going to pay for that package myself. I'd call back, thank you.

Gee, thanks for that tidbit of info, Lifeline. Guess your box will be a day later, awwww shucks.

Last night I called back, this time getting a guy with an accent so thick you could cut it with a chain saw. After asking him to slow down, I managed to understand all but every third word, or enough to handle the transaction with much repetition of numbers back and forth for confirmation.


One more thing checked off the never-shrinking list.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Billing Lifeline

Mar. 29, 2011

Dear Lifeline,

It’s been an interesting week in terms of communications from you. After canceling service months ago, after all the phone calls trying to get someone in your company with just enough smarts to send us the Fed Ex label you promised to send to our house for the return of your equipment, after actually being BILLED for the total price of your equipment (!!!) while trying to secure said label, after finding out that you can send that bill to the right address but you sent the label to the old address that changed over 20 months ago, now we finally get three letters in a row on three consecutive days from your company.

The first is a bill claiming to be past due from Feb. 14, threatening to cut off service if not paid. The second, finally, is the Fed Ex label. The third is another bill for past-due services dated Feb. 14 again.

Now really!

We are using the label. This is why you are getting this letter, now, in this box, since I’m not wasting a stamp to mail it to you separately. We are ignoring the allegedly past due bill, and please feel free to cut off the service that we had cut off months ago. IF, that is, your company can figure out a way to do so. Considering your track record so far, I wouldn’t put anything past you at this point - except competence.

Finally, I’m thinking that WE should be sending YOU a bill for the months of rental of table space where your equipment has resided, sitting in this box you’ve just removed it and this letter from, while we waited and called and waited and called in order to finally secure this shipping label. Would $5.00 a month be fair? Please remit ASAP to the billing address for this account.

With all DUE respect,

Heather M. Rosa

Thursday, March 24, 2011

When the East Wind Blows

In a land of prevailing westerlies, what the east wind brings can be, well, interesting.

I'm always served notice. My wind chime is nestled in a recess on the east side of my house. That may seem odd, but a little of it is wonderful, more isn't. So I didn't put it on the west side. Tuesday night it not only was chiming, it was banging into the house, right along with the rain, right at the corner of my bedroom. Back when that was the garage, it wasn't so annoying. Now, having learned fairly well to tune out Daddy's nocturnal noises, it's again not so bad. But it served warning.

We had just finished melting all but the big piles of snow up here after a wonderful week in the 50s. Yesterday morning I looked out to snow over everything. It's amazing how much snow a furry-footed dog can track in and leave in puddles all over the floor with enough left over to soak into the carpeting all over, but I still didn't think too much of it until the TV announced that our local schools were closed. What? They never do that here! We're rugged pioneer stock, and besides, all the really big storms manage to miss us by going slightly around us, leaving us the dregs. Still plenty annoying, but nothing to close schools over.

Hmmm, maybe my morning glance out had missed something. Like the fact that it started as rain, and turning to snow meant it was heavier and slicker and more packed down than usual. It wound up taking me 25 minutes to clear the car of it before driving out, and even then it was a sloppy job. I started trying to shovel a narrow path to the car, just to keep my feet dry, but a half-shovel full was where it stopped pushing forward and needed to be dumped. That ended quickly. So the feet got wet, so what? There's already a hole in my right shoe. I'll have to replace them when the weather gets nicer. I already knew that.

We keep an old straw broom outside to clear car roofs and hoods. It didn't help much. The wiper blades, once reached, had to be pried up and ice knocked off - repeatedly - before they would shape to the windshield and actually be useful, and even that not until after the windshield ice was scraped away. I had to knock snow away from all the lights since it had packed itself around them thickly enough to completely prevent any light or signal from getting through. Some of the ice I left there, reasoning that it would wind up falling off on its own through wind, vibration, heat and salt spray.

When gassing up that morning, I commented about the school closings and was informed that the buses couldn't get in. OK, I'm out in this crap in a dinky hatchback when the buses can't get around? Somebody give me my gold star now.

But the roads weren't bad. The plows had been out, so as long as you didn't mind traveling 30 mph over packed snow/ice, and stayed away from the idiots who did, it wasn't too bad. Right away I was sent a run where the pick was way up I94, partway between St. Cloud and Alexandria, ready at 1PM. I texted dispatch to ask whether, considering the roads, I shouldn't just go straight there instead of waiting for work along the way. For a change, he agreed.

It would normally be about a two hour trek, or just over that from the northeastern metro. It took over four. Once I finally reached 94 heading west out of the western metro, there was one clear lane all the way up. Of course, clear is relative. It was still packed snow/ice, but it had been plowed. Occasionally somebody had dropped salt as well, often just enough to tempt you to speeding up so you were going about 15 mph too fast when you fit the snow/ice again. After a while I stopped seeing the cars off in the ditch/snowbanks whose drivers had fallen for it. Of course, mostly you couldn't get up enough speed to do anything but wreck the undercarriage of your car if you did lose control. Lucky them.

My most amusing sighting was of three snowplows on northbound 169 when I was on southbound through Brooklyn Park. The first plow was in the median, lots of black mud dug up around it. The second was behind it with a big chain, trying to pull it out. The third was blocking all traffic so they'd have room to work. Apparently the cops were busy elsewhere. Behind them there were at least two miles' worth of stopped cars.

What, I'm out in a hatchback when even the plows are going off the roads? Somebody give me a gold star now!

I kept driving.

I also took a few stops on the way up, mostly due to coffee, either its abundance or lack. We're slowly weaning Daddy off caffeine in hopes he'll sleep better at night, but that means I'm being weaned off at home as well. Yesterday was not the day for that. Highway hypnosis is bad enough on long trips under normal circumstances. It's worse when you have to focus all your attention on staying in - well, actually, finding - your lane for four hours. Bless my polarized sunglasses! They're great for putting definition into layers of white. But I still need breaks, and not just to stay awake. White-knuckling it with one broken hand and one that's been over-compensating and has been suffering muscle strain for a couple weeks now is enough of a reason on its own.

That east wind was still blowing, even while the snow finally started letting up. On overpasses, it managed to push snow up and over guardrails, to dump in drifts on the shoulder and spill out into the right lane, leaving it even narrower than what it had already been. I managed to stay in it, not even tempted to swerve over into the left lane, which was still by far the worse one. Either they only plowed the right lane, or only plowed it recently, or traffic stayed in it enough to keep it fairly clear relative to the other. It seemed like oncoming traffic, divided as those lanes were from mine, still had much clearer lanes than the westbound side. Maybe it was a grass-is-greener phenomenon, lent credence by greater distance.

At least I wasn't heading much farther than I did. As it was, I passed two warning signs perched alongside the road warning traffic that 94 was closed at Fargo. Didn't need that.

Finally I reached my destination, took a few minutes for a break as I was early, grabbed my package and headed back. That grass-is-greener thing? The eastbound lanes were much better the whole way back. There were still intermittent icy patches, just enough to resist the urge to go 70 mph, but what took four hours going up took two hours coming back. And yes, the westbound lanes looked worse from the other side. It wasn't just optical delusions. It was actual bad plowing and worse salting.

Back in the metro it turned into pretty much a normal winter day, slick ramps and parking lots, main streets mostly clear. On the way home I heard the radio weather guy give snow totals for Osceola, 7 miles away from home, as 11 & 1/2", the highest of those he read off. Whoopie. But it gave me an idea. I'd swing by the river over there and see if there were any good winter pictures to take.

The previous weekend I'd taken Daddy out in the car to see how the snow was all going away. (Get the clear ground while you can, folks.) We'd stopped at the boat landing under the bridge and I'd taken pics of the bridge and ice chunks passing underneath it. Wouldn't that be cool with 11 & 1/2" snow on them as they floated by? Yeah, well, dream on. The ice had melted and the snow had no river perches. It did, however, create other interesting effects, and I did get a few pics before heading home.

Speaking of, remember how I used to never have a camera when I was out and about for work and that's when all those wonderful things appeared just demanding to be preserved? Well, that's changed. Now I always do, as long as I carry my work Nextel with me. The old one finally refused to input data properly on the screen so I could tell what to pick and drop and where, so it got replaced.

Upgraded, even, by a Nextel that also happens to be a Blackberry. A Blackberry! I now have a Blackberry! Yes, I still hate having to learn new technology, but once you know the new system, it's the same screen worth of data, only now you can see nearly all of it at one pop instead of scrolling and scrolling and scrolling. And it's a qwerty keyboard. No more hitting a number pad key just the perfect number of times to produce the letter you want and heaven help you if you ever want to find where they hid the punctuation. Now it's all on display, right there, easily accessible if you maintain a pair of fingernails to hit the keys with so you don't suffer from fat fingers multi-strokes. Of course, it needs two hands to operate, so you MUST pull over to use it instead of driving, and I can't tell you how many times I've pulled halfway out of a parking space and had to pull back in and put it in park so I could read whatever dispatch just sent this time!

But it's a blackberry. And it has a camera. And it has a charger.

That's all.

No phone, no internet (I'm told they're disabled. Maybe a hacker can tell me otherwise. Who knows?) No connecting cables to connect it to my computer. (Target says I need one with a USB connector on one end, and a mini USB on the other, $12.50 please.) It also comes with NO OPERATING MANUAL! (I suspect they think if they include one, we'll learn how to actually use it.)

Of course, what you need in those circumstances is a kid. Lucky me, I had one. I picked up my granddaughter, took her to the Taco Bell (her choice), handed her the Blackberry, and said, "How does this camera work?" She, having never seen one before, took the better part of a minute to figure it out. And one more to show me. Next day I figured out the mouse zoom feature on my own, kinda accidentally. Three positions. Cool! So I carry a camera around with me all the time now. : ) : ) : )

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Will a Paw Print Do?

Yesterday was a first for me at work. After more than 25 years, that's something.

It didn't start out looking like quite such an unusual run. I was sent to a veterinary clinic to pick up a package going to a "res." That's our abbreviation for residence. It's usually preceded by a name, so we know just who is authorized to sign for it, and as a double check that we're at the right place. Is this the Wilson residence? No? Oops, sorry. Or, I can't find 4567. Can you look up the Wilsons and check that the address is right?

Names are handy.

But sometimes we just aren't given them when the run is called in. I never know if it's carelessness or stupidity. But it's usually forthcoming by the time we pick up the package. On rare occasions, it's a "blind run": A is allowed to know that B sent us, but not that B is shipping it straight over to C. B likes to protect its customer list so A doesn't call C directly and undercut the price.

Yesterday was none of those. At the pick there was still no name, unless you count the pet's name on the box. It was to go to an apartment building manager's office. Hopefully the manager knew which apartment Mikka lives in and how to deliver the box properly. One can also presume that the manager is able to sign for the package, since Mikka's owner(s) will likely be at work. And we still don't have a way of registering paw prints as a valid signature for deliveries.

Thursday, March 17, 2011


Billboards have drawn my attention recently, for spectacular idiocy. The most recent one I pass at least daily on my way to work. (I've since seen others like it.) It tells us to mark the date, May 21, 2011, for the return of Christ.

Yeah, sure, whatever.

First of all, you can't convince me that whoever paid for these has some special advance warning of an exact date that none of the rest of humanity shares. This, presupposing there might be an actual, literal, in-human-form, return. And also presupposing we believed in Christ in the first place. Millions don't. Billions, maybe, but let's keep it local. So, if you believe in Christ and in a return, you have to buy somebody has advance knowledge.

Next question is: in what form? Is another baby going to be born? Is there a miracle pregnancy underway? Is that how somebody knows? Kind of a modern "she's knocked up and it ain't mine"?

Yeah, that never happens. Must have God as the baby-daddy. Sure. Uh huh. I believe, oh Lord, help me in my unbelief. My whole lotta great big unbelief in this one. Maybe those cherry trees will lower their branches and drop fruit, out of season, yet.

But how would one know which baby bastard born that day would become Christ, much less how any particular baby will be born that day? It's kinda advance notice of a caesarean. But hey, if the method is a baby, it gives the sponsor of the billboards about thirty years to get found out for a fool or worse. Just think of the possible ways to make money off this one.

Or are we expected to believe somebody will suddenly appear as a full grown, presumably male, adult claiming to be Christ? Those tend to get straightjackets and padded rooms. In this day and age, who would actually believe those claims?


So if you see my car wobble a bit on the road as I pass one of those billboards, I'm not drunk. Not texting. Just ROTF LMAO. That's hard to do behind the wheel. Better not tailgate me.

There was another one that sprinkled itself along the landscape a few months back. They stood there like a challenge. No, more than that, displaying the arrogance that their brand of logic is unassailable, their question cannot be answered, and thus we must be persuaded to their viewpoint.

I am referring to the billboards that show an adorable young kitten next to a fuzzy yellow chick, and demand, "How can you love one and eat the other?" I'm not sure who the sponsor was, since the very find print is hard to read while driving safely by at 60 mph, but I presume it was some animal rights group. I doubt it was them - the wording didn't have the right shape - but just the idea makes my mind jump to PETA.

Since my mind became subverted years ago, PETA is the organization whose acronym I retranslate mentally every time I see/hear it into People Eating Tasty Animals. I am an unabashed omnivore, in the interest of full disclosure here, and that contributes to my impatience with the goals and tactics of the group. Dr. Temple Grandin has done much more to introduce kindness into the lives of domestic animals than PETA will ever manage to do. When their primary tactic is releasing lab animals into the wild to starve since they have not been trained to cope, how on earth does one take them seriously? Especially if one has a fondness for being kind to animals?

But back to the billboard. How can we love the one - the kitten - and eat the other - the chicken? It mistakenly assumes that since both are depicted as babies, we will find each equally cute, and that translates into equally worthy, and thus inedible. Even at the start, they're wrong. Kittens are much cuter than chicks. Of course, that can be attributed to my personal prejudice, so let's look systematically at lovability versus edibility of both animals.

Chickens: tasty, can be served so many ways. Cats: nasty flavor. At least so I've heard, never having been tempted to actually try one.
Cats: can be litterbox trained. Chickens: poop everywhere.
Fur: silky texture, bends under touch and rebounds. Feathers: scratchy, break easily.
Cats: self-cleaning. Chickens: messy and content to stay that way.
Purring: pleasing sound, interpreted as pleasure, affection. Clucking: annoying.
Cats: range from toleration to welcoming of petting. Chickens: indifference to run-away response.
Cats: kill pests like mice, saving the storable food supply. Chickens: eat bugs... and the storable food supply.
Cats: able to get along in groups. Chickens: peck weaker members of the group to death.

The list could get longer. But the point is, compared to each other, cats are lovable companion animals, and chickens are delicious. Does that answer the question? So, what was their point again, exactly?

While pondering that, I've got some cold chicken in the fridge that's calling my name. I might pet the cat on my way by.

But Seriously...

It is possible, of course, to examine seriously the topic of how one writes about the family of a politician. I've heard journalists defend the idea that any tidbit is news and all reporting is justified.

I actually disagree with that.

Let's take some high-level examples. The Clintons and Obamas have/had young children in the White House, under the most public scrutiny in the world, for a child. The request to allow them something like a normal life out of the spotlight is reasonable. It's a shame that some people like Rush Limbaugh found it necessary to criticize Chelsea for not being pretty enough (he called her the White House dog, in case you've forgotten), when she was just going through that teen-age stage where one is busy growing into one's adult features. Recent pictures of her reveal a lovely young woman, and none of it should have been news!

However, how either president treated his family is/was news, as it reveals something of the character of each, and the voters can chose how significant it is to each of them. The First Lady has many official duties, and any of them are justifiably news. I'm not sure that how or where she does her hair or who she calls on her phone are, unless national security issues are involved.

Several years back, our Governor, Jesse Ventura, railed against the "jackals" of the press for reporting on his children, citing that as the reason he was not running for a second term. The story that most got under his skin - and the only one I actually remember being reported - was when his son held a wild party in the Governor's mansion and destruction of property was involved. Now that is news. That house is public property, maintained with our tax dollars, and what happens to it is worth reporting. You might note that those same "jackals" didn't follow his special needs daughter around and report on her activities. Nobody's business.

However, the fact of her existence, that was news. Her name was news. The family ranch was news. Any basic facts, part of the public knowledge base, all were worthy of being reported.

So why did our mayor blow his stack when I mentioned basic facts about his family when I commented that I respected him a family man? After all, that doesn't happen in a vacuum. You can't be a family man without a family. And everybody in town knows a few basic facts about them, much more than I've mentioned. And while I've not agreed to not mention them in my blog, I do believe that certain things would not need to be shared.

Let's go back to the Ventura family. Whether or not the son partied hard, or drunkenly, or whether he had a substance abuse problem - which I don't know, just extrapolating as a way of illustrating an example - none of that is really news. Not in the day-to-day, not in the election cycle. Where it crosses over to becoming news is when public property and tax dollars are involved, or when somebody gets hurt. Any possible family member's pecadillos need a reason beyond just their existence to become news.

Especially children's errors. I keep in mind that parents love to take pride in the accomplishments of their kids, almost as if the parents were responsible, while the mistakes are the child's own. Neither is 100% true. We raise our kids the best way we can, making mistakes along the way, and hope the world understands that those kids are individuals when they screw up just as much as they are when they do something remarkable. So if a politician's kid messes up, there is a line it needs to cross to justifiably become news.

It can be confusing, and some times it's a case-by-case judgment. Some times that case can be influenced by the reporting medium. Newspapers and TV reporters draw their own lines. I draw mine, as a blogger. And mostly those come back to the function of my blog.

It is, when all is said and done, my blog. I don't write about what you may want. If that bothers you, go write your own. You can write what pleases you way better than I can. I write about what touches me, my life, my emotions. If it amuses me, it might very well show up in my blog. If it irritates or exasperates or puzzles me, it might end up here. If it touches my heart, you might read it here.

But not always. And you might not have any idea just whom it is that I'm writing about. Heck, often I don't either. Who is that crazy driver? Or who wrote that sign? Sometimes I know but only share a first name, or in some cases let you know a name will not be forthcoming. If it's about a work customer, I have signed confidentiality agreements. They don't keep me from telling the story, but they do cut out identifiers. My topics, my decisions, my reasons, my choice.

My blog.

I hope you like it. I'll keep writing it.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Take it as a Challenge

It was an interesting council meeting tonight. Afterward, as I was getting ready to go, the Mayor approached me, angry with me and making a request that he found completely reasonable.

I didn't. I told him so.

His request was that, if I had any questions about his family, I should take them up with him. I should not blog about his family. He was the publicly elected official, not his family. They should not be mentioned on the internet. He wanted me to agree not to mention his family.

I responded that, first, I had only mentioned them as existing (not even by name) and not said anything negative about them. (I don't know anything negative about them, and am not about to invent something.) They were mentioned in passing only because I was stating I respected him as a family man. For reference, read this. Unless somebody else can point out a problem here, I do not see that there should be a problem. Sure, had I criticized them, I could see his point. I would not agree to him to never mention them again.

That didn't satisfy him. So he called out loudly to everybody present to listen to him ask me again not to write about his family. I gave him the same reply, told him goodnight, and walked out.

But there's a part of me that considers that kind of confrontation a challenge. So it's really tempting for me to blog about how nice his wife is, having met her on several occasions, or how cute his older son was back when he played with my granddaughter, and how well they got along, or how adorable the new baby is. I could even mention how helpful his wife's father was a few years back when Paul and I wound up buying his used RV at an auction: not only did he take us through what was where and how it worked, but showed up that fall to run us through the process of winterizing it so nothing would get ruined. Last spring he even showed up with an extra tire for it that he ran across when he was cleaning his garage, way beyond the call of a "mere" business deal. It helped a great deal when we had a freeway blowout on vacation last summer.

But I've been asked not to mention his family. Apparently it doesn't matter that I like them and have only nice things to say about them. They are not allowed to exist in my blogging world. It's a pity, really, since my "real" world has been enhanced for having known them.

I guess I'll have to resist the challenge.

Oh wait....

A Child's Prayer

What do kids pray for these days? Have you listened? I'm sure their prayers are far far different than they were 90 years ago, especially when one was a younger child in a family of ten children. I got an insight into life back then earlier this week. It was a different time, with different values. I can't imagine something like this from a modern kid.

It was Sunday morning, and my dad was sitting in his chair, a bit tired from getting up (early - DST just started, an hour sleep lost), and napping before getting breakfast. He started mumbling in his sleep, and suddenly switched to actual speech, apparently along the same lines. I had been going to get up and fix him breakfast, when what I heard held me riveted in my chair.

Later conversation with him revealed that he'd just had another of those dreams where he thinks he's just died, but that was later. What I heard now was him talking to his God, likely starting as an appeal for his afterlife, and morphing into something else. Somewhere in his brain he had become a little child again, and this was part of the prayer he offered:

"God, help me to be a good boy, and don't let me be a miser. ...Thank you God for helping me be good, and I'd like to get a new plaything once a year."

While getting him his breakfast, marveling over what I'd just heard, I started wondering: what would be a good "plaything" for him these days?

Monday, March 14, 2011

More Comversations

Hi Daddy, why are you sitting up?

I want to get up.

It's midnight.

I know, I've been sleeping since two midnights ago.

No you haven't. Let's get you some water and tuck you back in.

* * * * *

Hi Daddy, what did you want?

Oh, It's you? Thank Goodness. I wanted to talk to you.

What's up?

I just wanted to say 'Good-bye'.

OK, 'Good-bye'. Where are you going?

I don't know yet. I have hopes, but I'll find out when I get there.


I died tonight, you know.

No, I didn't. How'd that happen?

Well, there was this crossword puzzle in the newspaper. Several of us were playing, and the loser had to go off the cliff. I lost.

Oh, OK. It's 1:00 AM. Ready to go back to sleep now? I'll come and wake you up in the morning.

OK, but I won't be here.

Yeah, well, I'll come and wake you up anyway, all right?

All right.

* * * * *

(By phone)

Hi Daddy, how're you doing?

Not well.

No? What's wrong?

I hate to be a bother.

You're not a bother. What's up?

I don't want to complain, but it's that son of yours.

Why? What did he do?

Well, it's... I guess you'd call it... I need to tell you about some child abuse.

Child abuse! Against who?


Is Richard there? Can I talk to him on the phone?

Hi Mom.

What's up? I presume you've been listening.

Yeah. He's been crabby since mid-afternoon, when his aid left and he decided to go down to his room and go to bed. I tried to tell him it was only three o'clock and he could nap in his chair, but he was insisting, so I figured it was just better to let him go. Then at 5:00 I woke him up for supper, and he thought he'd been left alone in bed all day long.

Yeah, well, I got him up this morning, so I know that's not true. Just do your best with him and tuck him in bed when he's ready tonight. Tomorrow he'll have forgotten all about it.

I know.

* * * * *

Here, Daddy, let me straighten up your blankets so you're warm again.

Can I say, 'Thank you'?

Sure you can.

You're Welcome.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Eggregious Quotation Marks

They say the pen is mightier than the sword. These days I suspect the semi-automatic holds that distinction, but the pen - or keyboard - is still my weapon of choice. It seems also the be the weapon of choice for Matt Silver, the editor/owner of our local county Rah-Rah Rag, the Chisago County Press.

You might recall my last appearance before the local city council. Mr. Silver was there as the reporter for the paper. Curious as to how it would get reported, since I've heard reports of goings-on at other meetings that have been ignored in the press, I bought a copy of the paper this week. Let's just say my low expectations were met. No, I wasn't ignored in the coverage, just made to sound like a nut. Let's start with a headline which had nothing whatsoever to do with the meeting itself. True, we do have openings which need filling - and advertising - on some of our commissions. But not a word on them was spoken at the meeting. So, interesting choice.

Mr. Silver also fails to note how hot under the collar the Mayor tends to get when questioned. While this wasn't one of his more notorious public tantrums, his comments still are made to sound calm and reasonable. City council meetings in various towns were not always reported with such lack of comment on emotionality by this paper.

But it's his last sentence about my comments that's gotten me annoyed. Had he reported it straight, I'd have no complaint, since it states what I said. But he had to go and dress it up with eggregious quotation marks. It reads as follows: Rosa asked if the citizens of Shafer should be "worried".


How dismissive.

Can't you just see me up there smirking and using air quotes? Didn't happen. It was a serious query on a potentially serious topic.

If you don't think eggregious quotation marks change anything, lend a slant to the facts, let's try a few variations on a simple sentence and see how they make you react. The original way , the way I think it, is this: Matt, I used to have more respect for the paper when it was owned by your father, John Silver.

But then there are these:

Matt, I used to have more "respect" for the paper when it was owned by your father, John Silver.
Matt, I used to have more respect for the "paper" when it was owned by your father, John Silver.
Matt, I used to have more respect for the paper when it was "owned" by your father, John Silver.
Matt, I used to have more respect for the paper when it was owned by your "father", John Silver.

It's a simple declarative sentence, but each variation renders a different insult. All because of four little marks on the paper which, used this way, completely change the meaning of what is written. I personally think the original sentence conveys exactly what I mean and needs no dressing up.

But now, Mr. Silver, I pose a question for you. Note it is a question, not a statement. I would like an answer. I am genuinely curious to hear what it would be. There is a rumor going around - small towns again with their rumors, eh? - that the reason you never report anything unfavorable about what happens in our town is because you are buddy-buddy with our Mayor, and further, that he provides his professional services to you either free or at reduced prices, depending on who is repeating the rumor. So, Matt, is it a rumor? Or a "rumor"?

And is "conflict of interest" a term that has meaning in the newspaper business, or is that just in politics?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

An Empty Offer

Raw milk is the very best food available. Or so a lot of people believe. I agree, within a very narrow range. It is the best food available to a baby mammal when suckled directly from the teat of a lactating female mammal of the same species.

Other than that, it's problematical. Oh, cow's milk is still a fine food for those who can properly digest it. So is goat's milk. One does not have to be an infant to get value from it. But in those cases, there is always a middleman. And that always means there is the risk of introduced bacteria. In fact, it's a guarantee that bacteria will be introduced. They just can't be kept out of the system. They are everywhere.

How much risk is there from them? Some are actually beneficial. Some merely harmless. Some are dangerous, causing various levels of sickness. And some are deadly. Drink them and die. The thing is, if you heat that milk to 140 degrees fahrenheit and close the system so no new bacteria can enter and replace the killed bacteria, the milk is now safe, at least as regards bacteria. It's called pasteurization, and was truly the miracle of its time. It still is, but is so commonplace that hardly anybody thinks about it any more. And since we don't think about it, many folk think it's not necessary. In fact, many think it's actually harmful.

It is true that the proteins in milk become denatured from the heating. This means the ionic bonds between the atoms and molecules that hold them in shape become undone. They change, slightly. Think about an egg white when it is heated. The changes in it are from denatured proteins. It's still good to eat. In fact, it's now free of the danger of infecting you with salmonella, providing you denatured the yolk as well. Those nasty little bacteria also get denatured from the heat, and they die, before they can infect you and reproduce. By this time, pasteurization can be counted responsible for saving millions of lives, and vastly improving billions of others. Among them yours and mine.

Even some informed adults think that raw milk is the best and/or only thing for their families. It may have some added value. The risk must be minimal, right? Nobody ever hears of people dying from raw milk, do they? And their dairyman is to be trusted, right? Everything is clean and safe so how bad could it be? So they buy it, drink it, serve it to their families, all the while thinking that they are taking a justifiable and very minor risk.

Maybe they are. But what about their children? Where in all this is it that they are agreeing to take the risk? Where is their informed consent?

A Minnesota dairyman was in the news again today because a number of people got sick drinking his raw milk. His farm was shut down and charges were filed. Today he faced sentencing.

At the same time, my local Senator, Sean Nienow, was also in the news today over the issue of raw milk. He wants to make it easier for Minnesotans to get it. It seems a logical offshoot of the Republican push for deregulation. In order to stem criticism, he even offers to increase inspections of the farms which provide raw milk.

But it's an empty offer. At the same time he's proposing this, he's working to defund the very state agencies that would be tasked with that increased inspection load.

So who's fooling whom?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Faking the Outrage at NPR

The Right have gotten a lot of practice in on this recently. They started with Juan Williams' firing and continued their feeding frenzy today with Ronald Schiller's firing. Kill their funding!!! Not a penny!!!

But there's just so much hypocrisy in all of it.

Take Mr. Williams. He got fired for expressing his bigotry towards Muslims. He sees them in airports, and oooooooh, Muslims, scary!!!!! From all the right wing furor, it's apparently perfectly OK to be a bigot where Muslims are concerned, laudable even. It got Williams a big contract and a raise.

Mr. Schiller got fired due to a "gotcha!" hidden camera video where he is caught expressing his prejudices against Tea Party members as bigots and xenophobes. True, he paints with an over-broad brush, but the Tea Party certainly does contain a hefty proportion of them in its ranks, much as it's politically uncomfortable for the right to actually admit it in public. So even with more truth backing his prejudices, it's much worse to be a bigot against radical right-wingers than Muslims.

The right wing is screaming about Schiller doing the same thing they applauded Williams for months earlier. So it's apparently not how bigoted or truthful or outspoken your opinions are, it's all in whom you have them towards. It would be funny and ironic if they weren't so self-important and self-serious that they couldn't get the point. But apparently they can't. Or won't.

Stand up straight, NPR. Firing both these particular jerks was justified. Take a deep breath and move on. You're the best radio, and the best news, out there. (Just remind everybody that they're on Candid Camera all the time, know it or not. The world has changed.)

Frustration Friday Addendum

A good friend just told me my Friday sounded terrible. I appreciate the thought, but the reality is that it didn't feel as bad by the end of the day as it sounds. By that, I mean that when each episode was finished, it didn't carry over. I wasn't grumpy by evening. Partly, it's because none of those were unusual; just the concentration was notable. Second, by the time a pattern was establishing itself, I started thinking about blogging them all. It's become a great way to blow off steam, and sometimes get even. If you are annoying or ridiculous, my pointing that out to the rest of the world so you don't get to do that in private helps me feel less alone and less "abused" by the situation. I have a voice too, regardless of the fact that I'm constrained from using it as I might like to during working hours when I'm in uniform and representing my company.

She who laughs last....

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Frustration Friday

Everybody has days like that. They just manifest in different ways, is all. Here is how it works on my job.

There was the morning cookie delivery. Stop in at bakery X, pick up the order ( two dozen chocolate chip cookies in a grocery store style tray, thin aluminum with a snap-over clear plastic lid - how cheap!), and deliver them to house Y. No problem, they'll be home, and you can't leave them and walk away if they're not, because they're cookies, and hey, they'll be there.

Except, when you get there and walk up the long walk and up the stairs and on to the porch and ring the bell, you can't hear anything. You don't know if it works or not. You ring again, and this time the little outer ring around the button lights up, so, hey, maybe it didn't work before and it does now. Except the button stays in and the ring stays lit. Oops, don't want to annoy the people, so you quickly shoot out your fingernail and pry the button back out of where it's stuck.

Nobody comes anyway. You try again after a decent interval, and this time nothing lights up again. OK, try knocking - no, not with that hand, idiot, set the cookies down on the step and use the good hand. Nothing? Knock again. The bell may never have worked for you, and this may still be the only way they know you're there. If, that is, they're not stuck in the shower or the basement or, well, anywhere out of range of your puny knocking noise.

OK, time to dig out the Nextel and reread the text, see if you've missed anything. It's happened. Nope, right address, no phone number, no other instructions. Now it's time to dig out the cell and call dispatch. Perhaps they have a number or two to either roust the household or get an OK to leave it.

They'll call you back. Meanwhile, the knees are getting really unhappy with all the standing, but there's good stonework surrounding the door that offers a sturdy seat. Right out where the cold north wind pours right down your back. You could go back to the car, but if the OK comes through to leave the cookies, you just have to do the walking and stairs all over again. So, alternate standing in shelter from the wind with sitting in the wind, knees versus freeze.

OK, here's a call. The bakery lady is puzzled. No answers there. She was assured he would be home. The sender has already said do not leave, and now that number gets only voicemail, as does the company switchboard. So I can wait some more while my phone helper goes and talks with our head boss and tries to get a determination on the cookies. They are only worth $14. How much of a damage claim can there be? Should we risk leaving them?

While I wait, I amuse myself with imagining the people behind the order. Wife sending hubby cookies? Boss sending to "sick" employee? And what would take such a recipient out of the house when everyone is positive he's really there? Cheating om wifey? gone to the casino? Or is he really sick, too much so to come to the door? How much trouble will he be in when his absence is found out?

While I'm on hold with everything but my imagination, a workman comes to the door from the outside - hey, I didn't see anybody drive up - and asks if I'm trying to deliver something. I point to the cookies still on the step. He asks if I need a signature. Yes, of course, are you perhaps Mr. Y? He is. He signs, and I carefully hand him the cookies.

It seems he's actually been home, just working in the garage. (That's real helpful.) As he returns to whatever he's been doing, I notice that he grabs the cookies tray on one end and lets the rest fall down, no doubt breaking into crumbs in the process. Perhaps he's as impressed with the delivery as I was. Maybe he wanted molasses cookies instead.

Later in the day, when I'm in a big hurry because something else is going to be late, I get a run to a familiar stop. When I pull up to the dock, there's a sign with tiny lettering on the door. It's small enough that I have to climb up the dock stairs to read it. It says they've moved their delivery point to another end of the building.

OK, I put the box back in the car, and drive to that one, which has another tiny print sign on it. The special kind of freight I'm delivering goes to yet another door, around the corner.

Sigh!!! Emphatically. OK, reload the box, AGAIN, and drive around the corner. No sign on this door. Let's hope that this time it's good news. It's only 5 wasted minutes, but the customer waiting for my next package will not care that it's only 5 minutes later than it already was going to be.

The story of why the next one is already late winds up being a wild goose chase. We're told to pick this one up at the dock. Nothing unusual, but this dock is underground, and a gate arm and security speaker bar the entrance. After pushing the button and explaining my errand and instructions, the guard asks me if I have the name of the person who authorized this visit? That information is no longer provided to us mere drivers. We are apparently incapable of handling it. So I tell him no, and he makes a/some calls. After about 5 minutes of my blocking traffic, he refuses me entry and sends me around to the guard desk inside the front door instead. OK, no biggie. Nor is it the first time at this building, but we have to follow the instructions on our orders.

At the guard desk, I wait a couple minutes because somebody's magnetic pass card has expired. She's set off alarms, and that needs to be dealt with. Then I explain what I'm looking for, some small package to company Z. He looks around his station. Nada. He points me to a table where both incoming and outgoing packages sit, a handy spot between the door and guard station where things can come and go without needing Security to intervene.

On that table sit several packages, among them one with just a name, not a company, as its destination, along with our company name. No way to tell if it's come in and is waiting to be picked up, or is ready to go out. No way to tell if the name on the package belongs to somebody at Campany Z.

Doncha just hate when that happens? When will people learn to give both the courier and the package the same information? Are those lumps on that piggie's back the beginning of wings?

So I get to call HQ again, so they can find out if this is my package or not, and by now, request loadtime for all this misinformation goose chase. It also has the handy function of providing an alibi for when we show up late, and after all, I have all that we-changed-the-dock-but don't-want-to-make-it-easy-for-you-to-find-out nonsense to go through still on my way to Company Z.

Finally, the word comes through, along with an exasperated tone from dispatch, and we all discover the package I've been hunting has been sitting there all the time. Just not labeled for identification.

We don't always get our freight in the end. This one started out seeming simple enough. Go to a freight forwarder, pick up a load from them that they're handling for Company A and deliver it to Company B. Company A turns out to have the office behind the dock manager, so as soon as he hears their name, he sorts through the bin, finds one order with the notation my company will be picking it up, and shoves it over the counter for me to sign, date and time also please. It's a weird form, and I'm busy asking whether I sign on the line as consignee, and getting enough of his (thoroughly crabby - must be having a bad day or a bad personality, who knows which?) attention for an answer. After all, he knows his forms backwards, forwards and upside down, so why don't I? I don't notice until after I've signed that this is not my order, this one goes to Company D, and is one 406 pound box/crate on a pallet. Pallets just don't go in and out of hatchbacks. The forks on the forklift aren't made for it.

Anyway, oops, my bad.

Now we have to cross my information off the triplicate form, and he has to go back through the door to Company A and try to wangle another order out of them for the destination I asked for in the first place. And incidentally, 10 pieces, 81 lbs.

Oh, that order? They're still working on it. Luckily for me, there are chairs for folks who get to wait for their orders. It must happen often. Finally the right papers are brought out, I sign after checking the right spots, and I get my copies to take back into the warehouse for the guys there to find and load.

They start the hunt. Since there are no chairs here, I tell them I'll be waiting at my car, getting it ready for the load. You know, folding seats down, removing the 2-wheeler, making space. Nothing yet? OK, I'll sit on the hatch opening. Two semis pull in, load/unload (I can't tell which), and still nothing for me. Time to go in and check on my order.

Both warehouse guys are working on it by this time. They're way past the it-ain't-where-it-should-be part, and are well into the so-where-else-could-it-be? part. One breaks off to consult with the dock manager, who by now is even less well pleased than he was when I first arrived. There's speculation my freight is in Chicago. Coming out, the first relays to the second guy that the manager needs to speak with him, and I can overhear enough to know he's about to get himself reamed a new one.

Ahhh, if only it helped!

Finally, I'm called back into the dock manager's office, told they don't know where my freight is, and I should go away. Oh, and he now has to cross my name and info off a second form.

OK. Time to contact dispatch formally. I've been texting to them off and on as things go awry and delays mount, keeping both of us slightly amused. The information on the noload is taken, and I'm told to leave. While I'm writing it up, grabbing a cup of water, turning the radio back on, and all those other things before rolling, I get a message to stay, wait. Company A is calling us. Who knows, there might be a change. But finally, 50 minutes after I pulled up the ramp, it's official: noload, with paid waiting time.


I'm glad that there are two whole days off following Fridays.

Monday, March 7, 2011

With All Due Respect

Somewhere in my past I soaked up the lesson that other people are due at least a modicum of respect, simply for being people. Further, those who hold office are due the respect afforded to that office. There is an implication there that those who hold offices deserve to do so.

I have found ample instances with which to disagree with that premise. Many are notorious. Take Senator Wide Stance, the fellow who was arrested in the MSP airport soliciting gay sex from an undercover cop. While I could care less whether or not he's gay, his behavior both in dealing with the - ahem - exposure, and his legislative history of promoting anti-gay policies and laws combine to tell me he's not a person worthy of my respect, regardless of his position. There have been so many examples of this dichotomy between personal life and public politics that there's not enough room to try to list even the recent ones.

I have adopted a new standard by which I decide to respect an office holder, or not. What are they doing with that position? Are they using it for personal power or financial gain? Are they trying to make life better for people or animals, or promote some kind of worthy cause? I can also judge them on a personal, human level. As a human being, are they worth the space they take up and the air they breathe?

So if you hear me use the phrase, "With all due respect...", understand that somewhere behind that is a busy mind making a judgment of just how much respect is actually due. Of course, I may never tell you just what my conclusion is. I can't always hide it, but seldom do I think it worthwhile to make an actual comment. It is time to do so.

Now, those of you who read my posting on Participatory Democracy may think you know how much respect I bear for the current mayor of this town. You might be wrong, particularly if you think I bear him no respect. There are definitely things I take issue with. But there are other things that I've either seen or not seen that indicate he should be granted respect. For example, as far as I know, he is an upstanding family man. He and his wife have even adopted a baby to raise along with their other son, something not everyone is willing to do. I hear no whispers of drunkenness or reckless driving or tax evasion or gambling or affairs or any of the myriad foibles that rapidly become fodder for small town gossip mills. Until I hear something credible to the contrary, I'll grant him respect on that front. I once heard him admonish a petitioner before the council for using terms of bigotry, not allowing that kind of terminology into the discussion. That commands respect.

That respect, however, in no way colors the other things I do take issue with. Life is grey and many-colored, so seldom black and white.

Good News, Bad News

Good news: I still have a job.

Bad news: They cut my commission percentage way back a couple years ago.

Bad news: I had to discontinue any health insurance coverage (among several other things) as no longer affordable, nevermind not being able to afford the $3,000 deductible either.

Good news: I finally qualify for Minnesota Care.

Bad news: I had to chose between 4 different insurance plans with basically not enough information to choose between them.

Good news: All four plans cover my current doctor and clinic.

Good news: I now will have dental coverage.

Bad news: Mostly the dental coverage plans I can now choose between do not extend to my current dentist.

Good news?: One of the plans might, but I haven't found out yet. I signed up for it anyway.

Bad news: The bill for the first premium came today.

Good news: It's $10./month.

Bad news: Coverage doesn't start until next month.

Good news: Coverage starts next month.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Puzzling Bumper Sticker

There are a lot of bumper stickers that, even when I'm close enough to read the small print, do not make sense to me. I'm not talking about the ones where I wonder why on earth anybody espouses that particular philosophy, wants the world to know what a jerk they are, or wants the cops to know how much they favor speeding. At least those express a clear thought. Stupid, but clear. No, I'm talking about those which fail to communicate whatever they're trying to say.

I find a couple categories of puzzling bumper stickers. The first is the kind that communicates only to those of the same "in group". You have to be in the same church or club or watch the same TV show or something before you know what they say. Recognizing the type, I don't need to worry about what they're saying, because they're not saying it to me. "Beam me up Scotty" is an example, perfectly clear to anybody who's watched the original "Star Trek". "WELS" is meaningful within a particular church.

The other category is the bumper sticker that somehow misses the mark, fails to communicate its idea clearly. Occasionally it may be a spillover from category 1. I saw one recently that makes me unsure of which category to place it in: 2 for sure, but 1 also?

It starts out promisingly enough. The text reads, "Relax. God is in Charge." Now you can agree or disagree with that, depending on your personal beliefs and philosophy. Do you believe in God? Do you believe that means you sit back and relax, or lean towards that old adage that the gods help those that help themselves, and get out there, unrelaxed, and keep working? Agree or not, the message is still clear. It could/should have stopped there.

But of course it didn't, or I wouldn't be blogging about it. They added graphics, and that's what muddies up the message. There are pictures of two penguins and a fish on the bumper sticker. Suddenly all kinds of questions pop up.

Let's start with just which of them, exactly, are we supposed to empathize with, the fish or one or both penguins? The picture shows two predators and one prey animal. Are we supposed to put ourselves in the place of the fish, surely about to get eaten, and just relax because God's gonna take care of it? Somehow I don't find that a reassuring message.

Or do we empathize with one of the penguins, thinking they're about to be provided dinner? But again, there's a problem here with the message. There are two penguins looking at a potential meal that's only gonna feed one of them. Fish are not that easily cut in half by bird bills and shared. They tend to get swallowed whole unless they meet something with very sharp teeth. This means one full, fed penguin, one hungry penguin. Do we think the message is a comfort to the about-to-be-fed bird, that God is providing the meal? God says you get to eat while your neighbor starves, buddy. Or to the hungry bird, saying God is gonna dangle this meal in front of your face and then snatch it away, teasing you? But it's OK because it's God doing it? Relax, you're supposed to starve. Or perhaps, even, if you relax you will starve?

Any way you think of it, the message is not one I want to buy into.

All that comes from putting this bumper sticker into category 2. But perhaps it's category 1, and there's some in-crowd, behind-the-message special knowledge which makes the whole thing make sense. If so, and somebody out there knows what it is, please let me know.

Otherwise I'm just going with my original assumption, that there's a whole lot of stupid out there.

Please Use Little Garbage on Floor


Being greeted by a sign like that is revolting under the best of circumstances. Use it for what? Why? But imagine opening the door to a public restroom and seeing that sign. I wouldn't want to use anything off that floor, no matter how clean it might look or how recently washed, much less little garbage. (I will admit to picking up dropped coins, but only just before washing them in the sink. With soap.)

Signs have been one of my pet peeves for a long time. I am referring, of course, to those so badly written that one not only wonders whether the writer of the sign had English as a first language, but indeed whether the writer even has a first language!

In the process of using this facility, I figured out what they thought they were saying. Instead of the wall-mount box for those feminine unmentionable disposables that they are trying hard to educate us not to flush, there was a tiny, lidded, round trash can on the floor, tucked back behind the toilet.

I decided to be kind to the next customers in the door. I got out my pen, and in my best lousy penmanship given my immobilized writing hand, added the word "can" to the sign in the appropriate location. It now reads, "Please use little garbage can on floor". You have to look hard to see the added word, since a ballpoint pen does not compete well with bold face ink jet full caps an inch high. But it's there.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Participatory Democracy

I believe in democracy on the small scale. By small scale, I mean on the local level. Before I became mayor of my town, it was very difficult to go before the council and make any kind of a presentation. One had to contact the city clerk at least a week before the meeting and get placed on the agenda, "with approval." The standard city agenda how has a segment called "Open Hearing of the Public" on it. Anyone with business before the city can stand up and get three minutes - or longer - for any kind of issue. I've heard a lot of them, silly and significant. Now that I'm no longer on the council, I avail myself of the opportunity on occasion, though nowhere near as often as I'm tempted to. Frankly, I'm just often busy, not to mention home too late to make a meeting that lasts 20 minutes. (How do you discuss a city's worth of issues in 20 minutes?)

But I went Tuesday night. I'd heard, from a source I trust but will not name, that one of our (the city's) employees was home on a workman's comp injury. I was Mayor when he got hired, and am concerned about his welfare specifically, as well as generically about all city employees and citizens, including my family. The reason for his injury had the potential to harm again, any number of us, and I had some questions. His injury is a chemical burn to his respiratory system, so minor as to go nearly unnoted at the time but which worsened quickly and sent him to the hospital for evaluation. Questioning pinned the blame on his exposure during the assigned job of moving city chemicals used for water treatment out of one city well house to another location while the well house was having some construction done.

Naturally, I had some questions, and took them to the council meeting. I needed, first of all, a fact check. Was my source correct? Second, I've handled nasty chemicals for years, both in Georgia with stuff as deadly as paraquat, and on the job now moving small quantities of HazMat materials around. I know that there is no exposure from a sealed container. None. You can tip it, jostle it, lift and lower it, drive it around over potholes and speed bumps, and so long as the container is properly sealed and you don't puncture it, there is no exposure. So what happened? I had a list of questions about that as well, knowing just enough to ask the uncomfortable, but also enough to be able to use the information to assess risk reasonably well. An inhalant chemical exposure does not limit itself to a single stationary location, and on any given hour I live down wind from any of the three wells as well as other city buildings. So does my father, possibly the city resident most at risk for respiration issues.

I wanted to know what was leaking and how the city allowed a situation to produce a leak. Was it our storage containers, aging and no longer sealing properly, but kept in the interest of not spending tax money? Sloppy delivery damage? Were they cutting corners to save money in these tight times by cutting back of OSHA training classes, and did those cover this type of situation? Where were these chemicals being stored now, and presuming they needed to be returned to the well house after construction, could/would they be handled in a way that there was absolutely no threat to public or employee safety?

I maintain these are all legitimate questions that any private citizen - as I am now - has a right to ask of their city, and further has the right to ask in an open, public forum.

Our mayor, as I have come to expect from experience, took it as a personal attack and attacked back. He berated me on being "aggressive", on not having my facts straight (I did ask for a fact check in my opening remarks), and for addressing the council as a whole on the issue. Well, Kyle, where better than where everybody who might have the answers I wanted was assembled in one room where they could be answered? If I needed info from the engineer or the Public Works supervisor, here they were. When he told me I should have called somebody in the city - on the QT of course - rather than bring this up in public, he knew nothing about my time frame from learning of the injury to posing questions, what my schedule was like, what else was going on in my life. None of which was pertinent to me, since as I said, I asked my questions where the group with the answers was gathered. And none of this stuff was or should have been secret. Possibly embarrassing, but them's the breaks. Deal with it. Stuff happens all the time, and very little of it is about anything personal to the Mayor. At least, it shouldn't be.

But perhaps he knows something I don't which makes it personal.

I calmly replied, when he was done, that I didn't appreciate his turning my questions on public safety into him making a personal attack on me. He started to deny having done so, but I interrupted, "Of course you did. You called me 'aggressive'. "

Why Kyle takes any questions as a personal attack is a mystery to me. I could speculate, but that seems unfair. Fun, but unfair. He seems threatened by me, possibly in particular, possibly just as any person who asks a question. I haven't asked, and he hasn't volunteered the information. Part of the reason I haven't asked is the fact that calling him with a question results in getting shouted at. I prefer to avoid that, and I don't know which buttons not to push where he's concerned. His reaction puzzles me. (To be honest, it occasionally amuses me as well.) But I'm thick-skinned enough to go ahead and ask when it's important. And when it's about respiratory chemical exposure, it's important.

After a few minutes of Kyle telling me how awful I was to ask any of this, he stated he was refusing to answer my questions.

He also wondered aloud how the news had gotten to me - who blabbed? With his attitude, I was not about to name any names. Why burn a source by opening them up to one of his attacks? Hey, Kyle, you live in a small town. People talk, and the juicier the item, the faster and farther it spreads. Human nature. Deal with it.

The Public Works supervisor spoke up and categorically denied that any spill happened. I didn't suggest a spill, merely a leak. After all, whatever it was, it was airborne. No spill required, and my questions along that score remain unanswered. He also insisted that training was adequate and ongoing (good: the city is not choosing to save tax dollars that way), and the employee was properly supervised in the job. He phrased it in a way that implied the employee was at fault, letting that hang as something being investigated. Sounds to the educated ear like a certain somebody is still unemployed and the Mayor and PWS are showing many signs of creating an opening and ushering him in. (Same way PWS came in, with Kyle jumping at the chance to create an opening.) This comment was far from the first indication of that, for anyone paying attention.

And as to supervision, his comment raised more questions than it answered. Was he on-site? If not, why not? If so, why was one exposed and the other not? Did he remind the injured employee to use respiratory protection? Did that employee refuse? Or was the atmosphere - somewhat antagonistic on a good day - such that it discouraged taking the extra minutes needed for protection from something deemed unlikely?

I chose not to raise these questions, not just due to employee data-privacy laws, but because any reference to quality of supervision would have come across as a challenge, and not as an inquiry into public health and safety issues. Had I seriously been interested in raising a ruckus, that would have done it. This was not the time nor forum. Rather, these issues could be passed along via my source back to the employee in question, quietly and privately.

Hey, nobody reads my blog, right?

The Mayor wished to move on, but something interesting happened. One of our newest council members, Jesse K., spoke up and requested time to actually address my issues. He had heard concerns for heath and safety, and decided it was proper to address them. Apparently he'd taken notes while I was speaking, because he went down my list and answered my concerns in order. Even if it was an answer of "we don't know yet," he did his best to address the issues.

After the meeting was adjourned, I approach him and offered my hand, thanking him for the respect he showed me. If he continues to be dedicated to the city, listening to the citizens and identifying the issues presented, separating issues from ego, and if he maintains integrity in the process, he could go far. He seems like somebody I could respect in the Mayor's seat. This guy gets it.

Welcome to the council, Jesse.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Fallen Dogwood Tree

As a general rule, I don't trust people. Or perhaps, rather, I completely trust that they will behave counter to my own interests in ways that they completely justify to themselves for reasons that are often incomprehensible. It takes a long time to earn my trust, and I find even then that I am somewhat protected.

Take the fallen dogwood tree. I found it quite charming, really. Back in the late '70s and early '80s, our family lived in Georgia, specifically in Peachtree City, a bit south of Atlanta. It was a fairly new, planned community, with golf cart paths connecting every neighborhood and plenty of green belt space left behind when the town was cut out of the pine forest. It wasn't all pine, of course. I discovered the delights of sweetgums, tulip poplars, and dogwoods, as well as the need to avoid greenbriars, and poison ivy which could climb to the tops of the trees while being just as nasty as ever while unidentifiable at ground level.

In the spring the dogwoods were enchanting. If you haven't been in the deep south then, you need to know two things about spring there. First, it happens in February, not May like in Minnesota. Second, the dogwoods flower copiously with large white blossoms that so fill the empty spaces between all the other branches that for a week or two it looks like a blizzard has struck and frozen in time. I cherished every dogwood in my yard and everywhere else visible.

When the house was put in, the front yard was bulldozed to level the dirt for grass, with whatever extra pushed off to the sides and into a remaining patch of trees. One of the casualties of this was a medium-sized dogwood. It wasn't completely uprooted, however; just knocked over. The branches facing upward continued to grow, turning this one otherwise unremarkable tree into a virtual hedge of dogwood, one with enough spaces between branches to offer seating, should one choose, on the trunk. It had had years to make the adaptation before we moved in. The first time it bloomed, I fell in love with it. Sure, it was quirky, but I could live with such charming quirkiness. Easily.

One day we had new neighbors next door. A few months after moving in, they rented a chain saw and began to "clean up" their yard. In this town, that had to be done carefully, as ordinances prohibited taking down trees of a certain size. I basically ignored them, figuring it was none of my business.

I was wrong.

Coming out of the house the next day, I thought something was wrong, something a bit off. It took a few beats, but then I realized: my dogwood was gone!

I couldn't believe it! My next door neighbors had taken it upon themselves to do me the "favor" of coming into my yard and without asking cutting down my dogwood tree! They had this ridiculous assumption that since it wasn't perfect, I didn't want it and would be grateful to them for having saved me the trouble of cutting it down myself!

They came into my yard! MY YARD! Without even asking! And they were completely unapologetic. Not only that, they were actually self-righteous about their good deed and puzzled by my lack of gratitude. By the end of our conversation, at least they were completely clear about my lack of gratitude. I hope they will remember it before they try their next "good deed" which involves trespassing, unasked.

I debated calling the police and pressing charges, but it wouldn't bring back my tree. Even planting a dozen little trees to create somewhat the same effect after several years would not have worked, since the tree roots were so tangled in that part of my yard that planting even flowers was tortuous work. And, it wouldn't have created the sitting spots that the fallen trunk provided.

All I had was outrage. And I still do, when it comes to mind. Needless to say, we never became friendly. They were just another thing to leave behind when we moved out of Georgia, and another event to tuck in the back of my mind, mostly unremembered, to keep me cautious about going out and greeting the rest of the world with open arms, awaiting whatever new wonders would ensue.