Sunday, August 31, 2008

Black Cat in Black and White

The new phone lets me take black and white photos, as well as sepia ones: better for low-light conditions!

Mainly, though, this is a test to see if I can photoblog using Mail-to-Blogger. GoBlogger didn't work.

We'll see how it looks!


Hey, not bad! There's no way to control the size of the images, and I don't know if I can send text that includes HTML -- although I don't see why I couldn't -- but basically, the "how to photoblog from the phone" problem is solved. Cool!

A Change in the Weather

Gary and I went for a walk after dinner and actually had to wear jackets! Be still my heart! Could autumn actually be on its way?

If so, it's none too soon. A few days ago, I saw a coyote dart across one of the busiest roads in town, four lanes divided by a median. It got across the first two lanes, paused at the median, launched itself into the third lane, panicked at oncoming traffic, and then very wisely ran back the way it had come. I hope it didn't wind up being hit, and that it got home safely. It was running in the direction of our local mountain, and had probably been driven down in search of food after an exceedingly hot summer.

The last (and first) time I saw a wild coyote in town was last summer, when wildfires drove all kinds of critters off the mountain. Today, Gary and I also saw two dogs who looked feral. I probably should have called Animal Control about them, but didn't; I hope someone else will.

In technology news, Blogger lets you set up a mobile blog and then merge it with your regular one, which I'll probably attempt, since I think it's the only way to post photos from the handheld (basically, you e-mail them the photo and text, and they set it up for you).

I've also set up different ring tones for the phone and my e-mail accounts. Woo-hoo!

Today I drafted a poem on the BlackBerry memo pad, just to see if I could. This typing-with-thumbs thing gets old quickly, however, particularly for those of us who are young at heart but increasingly arthritic in the joints. If I ever do a lot of mobile blogging -- and a longish trip back East next summer may be in the works -- I'll have to invest in one of those folding Bluetooth keyboards.

That can wait for a while, though!

Saturday, August 30, 2008


Yesterday, after presiding at a very successful MA defense, I took this snapshot of the flowers in my office. Then I tried to use the BlackBerry to post the photo to the blog: no luck. Can anyone tell me how to do this?

As it turned out, that was only the first of the day's frustrations with Caprica Curve, who, alas, turns out to be a much more expensive date than I originally realized. But first, the important news: My father's still home on antibiotics. Yesterday he got more moving estimates, and he's found a company he's happy with. When I spoke to him this morning, he hadn't gotten much sleep and said he felt pretty lousy. He certainly sounded it, with a terrible rattling cough. But he had enough energy for a lively debate about biomedical ethics, so I figure he can't be doing too badly!

Right. Now back to Caprica. So: it's 2:00 on the Friday before a holiday weekend, and I want to get my work e-mail synced to the new phone. I call our IT Department, thinking that they'll tell me to see some tech on campus who'll push a few buttons, and that everything will be easy.


First, IT tells me that I have to pay a $60+ licensing fee to get my work e-mail on the phone, even though I get it for free on my home computer. And no, they don't take checks or credit cards; they need a purchase order from the English Department, and the money has to come out of a departmental account.

This is nuts, since the university's having such a huge budget crisis that the department can't even buy new toner cartridges for our printers. But I go upstairs and talk to our secretary, who's willing to fax the IPO through when I offer to pay the money to the department myself.

I hike up to the student union; the new one's abut a ten-minute walk from our building and is next to the new library. Both buildings used to be two seconds from the English Department, but not any more, and it's hotter than blazes out. But I have my sunhat. I'm set. I get cash at the student union to pay the department, and then I go to the library to meet with the tech person who'll set up my machine (and who's sweltering in a room without AC, which seems ironic for a tech person).

She gets my work e-mail synced to my phone. But when I try it, it doesn't work. It tells me that service is blocked. She makes a phone call and learns that I need a fancier data provider, an Enterprise server, but that if I call Verizon, they should be able to switch me over easily. It will be more money, but I have my state discount, right?

I go home. I call Verizon, where the perky sales rep informs me a) that yesterday's sale rep was incorrect in telling me that I get a state discount; my calling plan doesn't qualify me for one, and upgrading the calling plan would be more money than I'm paying even with the discount, and b) that the Enterprise plan is $15 more per month than the old plan was. The upshot is that I'll now be paying about $65 per month, although that's still less than I thought it would be based on the prices on the Verizon site.

Grumpy but resigned, I settle down to my next task: trying to transfer music from my laptop to the phone.

No go. It doesn't work.

I do some research and learn that I need to buy a media memory card, something I really should have been told when I got the BlackBerry. Gary thinks they assumed that everyone knows that, but I didn't.

Now really grumpy, I take a break for dinner. Then we go to PetSmart to buy catfood. Then we go to our friend Jim's house to visit his new flamepoint Siamese kitten, Petunia.

Petunia's a darling, but as you can tell, the flash on Caprica's camera makes her look like Radioactive Devil Cat. Since she's a Siamese, her eyes are actually a beautiful light blue. Despite photographic appearances, she's a very sweet kitty.

She hung out peacefully in Jim's arms for most of our visit, purring like "an idling truck," as Jim puts it. In this photo, you can see her pretty tail.

She let us pat her and didn't seem afraid of us at all. I grew up with Siamese, so spending time with her made me nostalgic for the cats of my youth.

This shot avoids radioactive-eye syndrome (by virtue of not including her eyes at all), and also lets you see the markings on her head. They'll get darker as she gets older.

Having been delighted and refreshed by our visit with Petunia, we decided to venture to Office Depot to try to find a memory card. When we got there -- it was now 8:30, and the store closed at 9:00 -- the sales rep advised us to go to the closest Verizon store, where the card could also be installed and initialized. The closest Verizon store, which also closed at 9:00, was about ten minutes away on a road we don't know well.

We managed to find it, though, and there I had my first break of the day: a 6-gig card was on sale for $25, not a bad price at all. And when I got home, I could download music without any trouble. So I now have a working iPod. Yay!

Caprica's now configured in all the important ways she needs to be, which means that I can stop fussing over her and get back to the rest of my life. Yay!

Oh, actually, there is one more glitch I'd like to iron out if possible, although it's not essential. I downloaded Google Maps, which indeed provides handy driving directions when I enter starting and ending points. But when I ask it to find my location, it consistently believes that I'm in Seattle. Does anyone have any clue what to do about this?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

And on a less happy note . . .

When Gary and I got back from shopping, we had a voicemail from my sister. When I'd called her earlier at my father's apartment to thank her for the birthday gift, she told me that he'd developed a bad cough overnight -- although he didn't have a fever -- and that his home-care nurse was making an emergency visit to check him out.

The nurse thought he had the very beginnings of pneumonia, so Liz took him to the ER. I spoke to both of them there. Liz said things were going well, but that she didn't know if they were going to admit him. He said that he'd be fine, that he certainly wasn't going to be admitted, and that he was sure they'd just send him home with antibiotics. (Since he's 86 and already frail, I have my doubts about that, but we'll see what happens.) His main concern was that he didn't want me to worry too much.

Whatever's causing his cough, they caught it really early, so I'm actually not too worried. But all prayers will be appreciated! Thanks!


Well, Dad called it. They're sending him home with meds. He does have pneumonia, but it's just at the beginning stages. (Wow, that came on fast!) Evidently his doctor was debating whether to admit him: he said on paper, he'd do the admission, but my father seemed to be doing well, so instead he's going home.

I'm glad he'll get to sleep in his own bed tonight.


Well, it's certainly been a gala day! (By the way, I'm now blogging from my regular machine, which is certainly preferable in terms of keyboard size if it's available!)

I got home from my hospital shift to discover birthday packages from my mother and sister, even though my birthday isn't until September 7. They'd both sent me gorgeous bracelets from a wonderful Native American jewelry store near them; my mother also sent me a generous check. After I'd called to thank them, Gary and I went to the Verizon store. I thought the BlackBerry would simply cost too much to make sense, especially with monthly charges.

I was wrong. After a mail-in rebate, my mother's birthday check covers the cost of the device. Meanwhile, adding unlimited e-mail and internet to my existing phone service (which was transferred over to the Curve) only added $30 a month to the bill. And it turns out that as a state employee, I get a discount, which means that the monthly bill will be less than $50: still an extravagance, make no mistake, but a relatively affordable one, especially since our home internet costs went down when we switched to AT&T.

Best of all, Gary now has my old phone. His mother and I have been pestering him to get one; I worry about him not being able to call 911 when he's out hiking. What if he falls and breaks a leg? But Gary's phone-phobic: he doesn't like talking on them and usually doesn't even answer them when they ring. He just lets voice mail answer, and then screens the call to see if it's something he needs to respond to or if it's for me.

We explained all this to the Verizon salesperson, who said, "Okay, look, I'll give him his own number on your old phone, and I won't charge you an activation fee, and you can just put prepaid minutes on there and add more if he uses them up. How does that sound?"

It sounded great to me. Gary was still extremely dubious, but acquiesced when I insisted. (He can testify to my ability to be a nagging wife when I think something's important!) So he now has a prepaid phone that will live in his hiking pack. With luck, he'll never use it, but I feel better knowing that it's there.

I've been playing with my BlackBerry nonstop for the last few hours. It's truly a thing of wonder and beauty. I've now figured out how to get the symbols I need for HTML coding for blogging: yay! I've set some bookmarks and done some web browsing. I've taken a few pictures and deleted them because they were terrible, but that's probably because of bad lighting. I've figured out how to add new phone numbers. I've spoken to my sister on her cell, with good reception on both ends. (More about that in another, less cheerful post.) My next tasks are to figure out how to set a password on the BlackBerry, and to download my favorite songs to the phone.

To answer's Lee questions, headphones came with the phone (and I already have nice noise-canceling ones for plane trips). My laptop connects to the internet by itself, so it doesn't need the phone to do that; but the phone gives me the option of leaving the laptop at home for short trips.

I'll have to name the phone, in the grand tradition of Holly Honda, Fiona Ford, and Vera Vaio. Carla Curve?

Wait, no, I've got it! Caprica Curve! Caprica Curve, because she's a Cylon!


Blogging from My Blackberry

Yes, I now have a BlackBerry Curve! I can't seem to find the symbols I need for HTML coding, but I'm blogging!

More later, after dinner.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Fun With Technology

Our land lines went down tonight, so I (and later Gary) spent quite a bit of time on my cellphone with a kind, patient AT&T rep -- who also seemed competent, hurrah! -- to try to get them working again. We think everything's fixed now, but a tech's coming by the house tomorrow just to make sure.

This is one of those times when I really appreciate having a cellphone.

On that subject, I'm still drooling over smartphones. Verizon doesn't support iPhones, but does support CrackBerries -- er, BlackBerries -- so Gary and I will probably stop by our friendly local Verizon store sometime this weekend to check them out. Based on online reviews, I'm leaning towards a Curve 8330. If anyone has better recommendations, please let me know!

My basic requirements are: decent audio quality for both phone and music, decent battery life, camera, QWERTY keyboard, and user-friendly e-mail/internet options.
Oh, and I don't want to spend the moon.

(Can one blog from a BlackBerry?)


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Nice Modest Needs Story

One of the things I love about Modest Needs is that they send you an e-mail when one of the grant requests to which you've contributed has been fully funded. The e-mail includes a thank-you note from the recipient.

One of these e-mails came last week. The thank-you note was warm and heartfelt, which of course made me (and, presumably, everyone else who contributed) feel good. But what touched me most was the recipient's response to the organization's standard question, "Will you consider becoming a donor yourself?"

This person is planning to give five dollars a year, "until I can afford more."

The Widow's Mite springs instantly to mind. Five bucks is some folks' daily Starbucks budget -- which is great, if you have it -- but probably represents a much more substantial sacrifice for this recipient.


Grand Rounds Meets the Bard!

This week's edition is up, with a Shakespearean theme. Now that's what I call Literature & Medicine!

Elsewhere in medical news, I've made an appointment with a local acupuncturist (who's also an MD, and very highly regarded by a colleague who's one of his patients). I keep hearing that acupuncture helps at least some people with allergies, arthritis and depression, all of which I have, so why not give it a try?

My initial appointment was with an APN, and my friend at work said only the MD places the needles, which would mean I'd need an appointment with him, too. I called to check on this, and the scheduler explained that the APN will spend an hour with me, taking a complete history and doing various tests. Then I'll be led into the acupuncture room and the doctor will come in and place the needles.

Dang! When did I last have that much face time with a provider? Just knowing that someone's going to listen to me that carefully makes me feel good about this place already. (Now that's what I call narrative medicine!) O brave new world, that has such creatures in it!

And, amazingly, this doctor is on my insurance list.

I'll post about it afterwards -- the appointment's in two weeks -- and let you know what I think.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Good First Day

My first day of classes went well, I think. Because we were away this weekend, I'd been forced to have my syllabi completed and photocopied last week, and it certainly helped not to be running around trying to do that stuff today. And I swam before going to work, which may be one reason my energy level stayed pretty constant: I didn't have a mid-afternoon lull, and still had energy for my evening class.

I even got a little knitting done in my office today (and took some ribbing about it from people who saw me and thought I wasn't working hard enough!).

Both classes seem like good groups; my Women & Lit students, in particular, opened up to a degree that's unusual for a first day. So that bodes well for the rest of the semester.

I also met with the lone med student in my Narrative Medicine class today, for the second time, and that was really fun. She's doing some very powerful writing. Although she keeps saying she doesn't "get" poetry, she brought a poem to our meeting today that I loved, and that I'm encouraging her to try to publish.

And now I'm going to veg out and watch DVDs with Gary. And knit.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Hotel of Uncertainty

This is my sixth post today: jeez! I'm posting so much because I couldn't post while we were in San Francisco, even though our hotel has free internet that's worked for me in the past, because the internet was highly fickle. Sometimes the network didn't even show up on the network list. Sometimes it did, but you couldn't connect. Sometimes you could connect for a few minutes but then it kicked you off. Sometimes it stayed connected but wouldn't let you read e-mail; other times, you could read e-mail but not send it. I never had any luck connecting to Blogger, even when I carried the laptop across the street (we were in an annex) to the main hotel lobby, where I thought the signal might be stronger and more reliable. Nope. The strength was still "very low," even there.

This situation was, in a word, nerve-wracking.

But it wasn't nearly as bad as our struggles with our key cards. We've stayed in a lot of hotels, and we've used a lot of key cards. We've never had one stop working on us. This trip, we'd asked for two key cards, and both of us repeatedly -- I'm talking several times a day here -- had to get new ones, because the cards would just stop working. They wouldn't let us in the annex door, or they'd get us into the building but wouldn't work on our room door. And every single time we trekked across the street to get a new card, the front desk clerk told us cheerfully that this must be our fault: we must have kept the key next to our credit cards or our cellphones.

We kept the key cards the same place we've always kept key cards, and we've never had anything like this kind of trouble before.

Meanwhile, for some reason we only got one washcloth a day, although there were lots of towels. And sometimes we couldn't get a dial tone on the room phone.

So we're not going there again, which is too bad. For a while, it was our favorite place to stay in the city, because it was inexpensive and had free parking and free internet. Which worked. But the quality has, shall we say, gone downhill.

(The hotel's the Ramada Limited on Seventh Street, for anyone planning a trip to San Francisco. Obviously, we no longer recommend the place.)

SF Trip, Photos I: People

Here's Gary at a little restaurant where we ate lunch. Isn't he handsome?

I guess I should have asked him to take a picture of me, but he's much more photogenic than I am, so it's probably just as well that I didn't!

Here are David, on the left, and Danny, on the right, holding hands after the wedding. A friend of their got a Justice-of-the-Peace-for-a-Day certificate so he could marry them; he's standing behind him. The composition of this picture isn't the greatest, but it was difficult to get a good shot, because everyone else was angling with their cameras, too! The important thing is that it was a lovely wedding, and we all had a great time.

We wound up sitting at David and Danny's table at the restaurant (there was no seating plan), although we were at the other end of a long table from them, and didn't get to talk to them during the meal. That's Danny at the end, David next to him, and their officiant -- whose name escapes me -- next to David.

Here are the two grooms with the two best men. The fellow with the beard is my friend Larry Lustig from college; Larry, his wife Laura, David and I were all in the campus science fiction society. Gary and I hadn't seen Larry and Laura since our own wedding, so we had a great time catching up. They brought their two young daughters and their niece; their oldest girl had asked what kind of wedding cake David and Danny would serve, and when Larry said he didn't know, she rolled her eyes and said, "Well, okay, but what kind of cake do they serve at traditional gay weddings?" Larry told that story during his toast, and everyone laughed.

There was a lot of talk of new traditions at the wedding. (The cake was chocolate, and excellent, for anyone who's interested.) Unfortunately -- and infuriatingly -- there's a ballot measure to make gay marriage unconstitutional in California: if it passes in November, weddings that have already taken place will be legal, but there won't be any new ones. In lieu of wedding presents, David and Danny asked for donations to the fund fighting that ballot measure.

After the reception, Larry and Laura took the kids for a walk on the beach. They were giving me and Gary a lift back to our hotel, but because the weather was cold and because we were very full, we elected to wait for them in the museum below the restaurant, which had nifty murals. I sat and knitted, and then I looked up and saw, opposite me, a mural of a woman knitting! How perfect is that? (I guess technically this photo should be in my third photo post, the one devoted to pictures of things, but it's a painting of a person, so I'm letting it slide.)

SF Trip, Photos II: Places

I love Ocean Beach in San Francisco. It's so huge, and it's usually so uncrowded (of course, we were there on Friday, and more people -- and their dogs -- show up on weekends). Just smelling the sea air does me good.

Here's one looking down the beach. It was one of those misty moisty days when the sea and sky blend, when you feel like you're wrapped in a cocoon of surf and seabreeze. The only problem with Ocean Beach is that it's difficult to recognize "exits." We always access the beach from Judah Street and walk for a while in one direction before heading back. On the return trip, all the little paths up to the street look alike, so we inevitably wind up leaving the beach too soon and walking on the sidewalk for a while. That's fun too, though, because you get to watch people on bikes and parents pushing strollers.

Yeah, so I got a little lazy in the landscape picture department. I could have taken pictures of the huge hills our friend Larry drove us (and his wife Laura, and their two daughters and their niece) up and down. The children were thrilled! I could have take pictures of the lovely park where the wedding was held.

But I didn't. I just took pictures of the beach, because I love it.

SF Trip, Photos III: Things

I call this one "Found Still Life." We found it on our beach walk on Saturday. The weather was cool and cloudy, but if anything, that was better for taking photographs. I've become very fond of our little digital camera, although I can't claim to be a great photographer!

Here's a slightly less lovely found still life: Seaweed with Jellyfish. It must be jellyfish season, because there were zillions of them all over the beach. They were the clear jellyfish, and I don't think those sting too badly, but I wasn't about to handle them to try to find out.

I love how this stick is reflected in the wet sand. There were a lot of birds on the beach, and I tried to get some photos with the birds reflected in the sand, but they were too quick for me and kept flying away. We also met various adorable dogs, but I didn't take pictures of them.

Here's another found still life, Driftwood with Waves.

After our walk on the beach, we went to the Asian Art Museum, which allows photography on the second and third floors. This sculpture of a dog makes me laugh every time we go there, so I thought I'd take a picture of it this time.

I'm also very fond of this hilarious duck vase. Gary and I discovered that we both like the unusual, unexpected things in the museum, rather than the items that look like every example of Asian art you've ever seen. The main museum exhibit was of Treasures from the Ming Dynasty, and the stuff was beautiful, but to me, it also seemed stereotypical, so it left me cold. All the Ming vases look like every knockoff of a Ming vase you've ever seen in a gift shop, you know? (I know they're infinitely valuable, but I'm not an art historian, so they have no hold on me.) Also, while I admire Buddhism, gallery after gallery of Buddha statues got to be a bit much.

We loved Japanese bamboo basketry, though, and also the Korean textile exhibit. The museum's having a show of Islamic art that starts in a few weeks, and Gary and I both love that stuff, so we're going to try to make it back to the city so we can see it.

Harley's Okay!

Our vet left a voicemail message saying that Harley's bloodwork looks good: the kidney values are the same as they were the last two times, which means it's just an individual eccentricity on his part. She's going to keep doing bloodwork every 6-8 months just to make nothing changes, but for the moment, he has a clean bill of health.

No special diet! No subq fluids! Hip hip hurray!

Change of Shift

In the late-links-are-better-than-none department, I'm pleased to link to the most recent Change of Shift, the twice-monthly nursing blog carnival.

Happy reading!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

All Kinds of Stuff, In No Particular Order

1. My father and Fran got the apartment! Now we begin the nerve-wracking process of two people moving from two different states into the same small space. They probably won't be here for about two months, but there are lots of logistics to be worked out in the meantime.

2. This week's edition of Grand Rounds is up. Happy reading!

3. Speaking of medicine, yesterday I flew down to Vegas to teach my narrative-medicine class to some third-year students. It was great fun, and two of them are now interested in my fourth-year NM elective (and one person came away from the class with an interesting idea for a research project). So I'm pleased with how it went.

4. Also speaking of medicine -- veterinary, this time -- Harley had bloodwork this morning to see if he's developing kidney disease (his bloodwork has seemed to indicate that he might be, but it's borderline and might just be normal for him, so they've been rechecking his blood every six months). Please keep your fingers crossed for good results!

5. Yesterday in Vegas, my friend Marin showed me her iPhone, which is a thing of beauty and splendor, and for which I developed instant and total technolust. Gary and I talked about my getting myself one for my birthday, but reality set in when I started checking the numbers: on top of the hefty purchase price for the unit, the monthly charge ranges from $70 to $130, and that's way too much to pay on top of our other bills. (Plus, battery life seems to be a problem with these gizmos.) So I'll stick with my modest little cellphone for now. I'm sure that the units will become more reliable and that prices will come down, but I can wait until that happens.

6. Tomorrow we leave for the wedding in San Francisco. It should be a fun trip!

7. Classes start Monday. Eeeep! I think I'm ready, but I suspect I'll have my share of teaching-anxiety dreams this weekend.

I think that's all the news. I may blog over the weekend -- I'm certainly taking the laptop -- but if I don't, I hope everyone has a great few days!

Monday, August 18, 2008

That'll Wake You Right Up

A very large bird just crashed into my study window and fell stunned to our deck. When I raced downstairs, I found a red-tailed hawk (I think; they're the most common around here) rousing itself and looking around before it flew away.

Beautiful animal. I wish I'd had my camera.

The cats were going nuts, natch.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Three More Crumbs

I've always been much more generous with time than with money, but the Modest Needs project has energized me. So, with Gary's approval, I'm now making the same size monthly donation to Doctors Without Borders (in honor of my father, who feels the injustice of global poverty acutely), The Humane Society of the United States (in honor of my mother, who loves animals), and First Book (in honor of Gary's mom, who works in the children's room of her local library and leads writing workshops for the kids).

These are pittances -- I'm nowhere close to anything resembling, for instance, a tithe -- but it's more than I was doing before. And I hope to increase the amounts a little bit every year.

And crumbs, of course, can do a lot.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Money Where My Mouth Is

I'm delighted to report that I'm now a registered donor at Modest Needs, and have made a modest monthly pledge. The cool thing about monthly pledges is that the organization has matching funds, so you're effectively contributing twice as much money. You can either have them put the money where they think it's most needed, or decide which applications you want to help fund, and how much. There's a huge array of selection criteria: state, type of request (individual, social worker, agency), type of need (truly vast list here!).

I've already helped fund requests for two disabled families, and I gotta say, it feels good. Oh, and while maintaining complete anonymity, Modest Needs tells you household composition (how many adults and kids), whether the recipient is eligible for other assistance, what percentage of household income the family earns, and whether they're below the poverty line.

Check it out! And consider donating! Even a dollar a month can do much good.

Modest Needs

Here's tomorrow's homily, on one of my favorite Gospel passages. I've preached on this one before, but because we're doing an infant baptism tomorrow, I had to find a way to tie that in. And when I found the Modest Needs article, it fit perfectly!

Here are the readings, although I only discuss Genesis and Matthew.


This morning we’re here to celebrate a baptism, to welcome Elena into our church family and into the Body of Christ. A baptism is, among other things, a party, and since we usually have a lot of guests at these occasions, those of us who are regulars want to put our best foot forward. We want to make it easy for everyone to praise and worship the Host of the party, our generous and merciful God. Like any proud relatives, we want everyone to love him as much as we do.

This morning’s readings don’t make that easy. Things start out well enough, with the lesson from Genesis. While it’s true that Joseph’s brothers are somewhat less than admirable for having sold him into slavery, the point of the story is that he forgives them. Furthermore, he discerns in their actions the hand of Providence: because they sold him into slavery, he is now in a position to provide for his family during a time of famine. Responding to betrayal with love and generosity, he transforms pain into blessing. Surely that is how we want everyone in God’s family to act, and surely it is how we strive to act ourselves.

But then we get to the Gospel. Jesus, our beloved and gracious Host, is not having a good day. In fact, he seems to be doing his best to embarrass us, since he tries to drive away a desperate woman seeking healing for her sick daughter. Not only does he tell her to get lost, but he does so in the most insulting terms possible. “Sorry, you’re not one of us. I’m not here for people like you. It is not right to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”

Various scholars have done Olympics-worthy somersaults trying to soften this. The word for dog, for instance, might better be translated “cute pet puppy.” I don’t know about you, but I find this interpretation completely lame. Being called a pet puppy is very little comfort when the puppy’s being deprived of needed nourishment. “What a cute little dog. Let’s starve it!” Oh, Jesus! How could you behave this way in front of guests?

If Jesus isn’t being a very good role model, though, the desperate, unnamed mother is. She’s chased Jesus down in the streets, even when the disciples tried to shoo her away; she’s nothing if not persistent. And she’s smart. When Jesus insults her by calling her and her daughter dogs, she doesn’t argue the point. She doesn’t say indignantly, “I’m no dog!” as I suspect I’d do in her place. Instead, she uses Jesus’ words against him. “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” All right, Jesus: if I’m a dog, let me have what all the other dogs have. It’s not like I’m asking for much. We’ve all seen you heal people; a mere crumb of your power will make my daughter well.

And Jesus, astonished and probably abashed, finally responds the way we want him to. He finally starts behaving in front of company. “‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.”

This anonymous, outcast mother is the only person in the entire Gospels who wins an argument with Jesus. She forces him to reconsider his ministry, to realize that he’s called to heal everyone. As a result, she’s directly responsible for widening the circle of God’s love. In this lesson, Jesus teaches us that God is capable of changing his mind about who deserves help. That means we can challenge God, or human conceptions of God, when they seem too narrow, and it means that we can change our own minds too, widening our own circles of mercy. The Canaanite woman, meanwhile, teaches us that sometimes persistence and street smarts are necessary to get what we need, and that it’s all right to argue on our own behalf -– yes, even with God –- when our cause is just. And, finally, this Gospel passage reminds us that often it takes only crumbs to help people who are hurting, to transform pain into blessing.

I thought of the Canaanite woman last week when I read an article about Keith Taylor, a Tennessee English teacher who started a charity called Modest Needs to help the working poor, people without the safety nets of savings accounts or government assistance. Modest Needs offers one-time checks to help cover expenses: $65 to help pay for auto insurance, say, or a hundred dollars to help pay for new eyeglasses. Taylor started out with a personal website asking people who needed small sums to write to him. In 2002, he set up a system where anyone can log onto the website and donate money. Donors can choose the kind of recipients they’d like their money to help: the elderly, say, or single mothers, or victims of domestic violence. Each grant request is carefully screened for genuine need.

According to the article, “the average Modest Needs grant of late is $560 and goes to those who need help with a month’s rent or a doctor bill or money to fix a car to get to a new job. The check goes not to the recipient but to the bank, business or landlord that needs to be paid.” Last year, the organization awarded more than $800,000, helping over 1,500 people. Seven out of every ten recipients later become donors.

One of those donors is a woman named Brenda Fallon. In 2005, Modest Needs gave her $29.95 for hormone shots that she believes safeguarded the birth of her daughter Ciara. “A year after Ciara’s birth, Fallon read a story on Modest Needs about a woman who became a donor after receiving money for an appraisal to refinance her house. ‘I thought, “they saved my daughter’s life. I should be giving too.” I’m embarrassed I didn’t do it sooner.’ She now contributes $10 a month.”

For most of us, $29.95 is a mere crumb, and yet it saved a child’s life. Ten dollars may seem like a crumb too, but it is more of a sacrifice for Brenda Fallon than it would be for many of us. And the crumb Brenda Fallon donates every month will surely help someone, or many someones, enjoy feasts they might not have known otherwise.

The Canaanite woman in the Gospels is never named, but I think her name just might be Brenda. And I wonder if, like Brenda Fallon, she went on to give to others in direct response to what she had been given. How many people did this woman of great faith, and her daughter, go on to comfort and help heal?

We don’t, and can’t, know. Although the same story occurs, in a slightly different form, in the Gospel of Mark, neither narrative tells us what happened after the healing. We don’t know how it changed the Canaanite woman’s life, but we can be sure that it did. She has not only had her daughter’s illness healed, but been welcomed into the family of God, surely the most healing moment of all, both for her and for the One, and the ones, who welcome her.

And so this is my hope for Elena this morning. I hope, and know, that she and her family will find a warm and joyous welcome here. I hope that, helped by all of us in her new family, she will grow into her faith basking in God’s love and in the gifts God has so generously bestowed on all of us. And if she endures times in her life when God seems to be behaving badly, I hope she will be persistent in reminding God -– and the people around her -– what she needs. I hope she will advocate both for those she loves and for those too often unloved by society, but always loved by God. And I hope she will remember that even a crumb the size of a mustard seed can help transform pain into blessing, giving those it feeds a taste of the Kingdom of God.


Thursday, August 14, 2008

A Completely Frivolous Post

I've always been fairly un-girly. I don't wear makeup; I have short hair; I wear sensible shoes. People at the hospital frequently mistake me for a nun, and it's not just because I'm a chaplain. It's because at least one of the other female chaplains also doesn't wear makeup, has short hair, and wears sensible shoes. (I do wear a lot of jewelry, but not at the hospital.)

Among other things, I've never had the time or patience for nail polish. At the hospital, we aren't allowed to wear nail polish on our fingers, although that rule's probably less strict for me than it would be for medical personnel. And my toes are almost always hidden in sensible shoes, so why bother?

But the new Naot sandals show my toes, so I decided to go wild and use some polish. I love it! Having shiny toenails is fun! And I like this color because it's basically a pearlized flesh tone, very subtle, although I now plan to invest in some wilder colors.

My feet were up on the coffee table last night while we watched Michael Phelps win his umpteenth gold medal. (He's also going to earn a medal in weightlifting if he tries to wear them all at once.) I wiggled my toes at Gary, who rolled his eyes and said, "You're such a girl!"

So that's today's frivolous news. You weren't coming to this blog looking for deep intellectual content, were you? If so, you're out of luck.

And on that note, back to planning fall classes!

Rock Woman With Prayer Shawl

Remember when I said that I wanted to knit a mini-shawl for the rock person I bought in Berkeley? Here it is.

Rock Woman, in combination with various other objects -- including the cross rock -- may wind up being part of the logo for my "Bodily Blessings" column, coming in October to a Faith & Healing website near you. I'll be sure to post about that when it happens! But, anyway, that's why I made time for something as fun and silly as knitting a prayer shawl for a rock when I'm also prepping for classes!

Big News

My father may have an apartment in Reno! There's one person ahead of him on the waiting list, and the management of the place has been trying to reach her, without success. If she doesn't get back to them by Monday, the apartment is Dad's (and Fran's, since they plan to share it; Gary and I both think it's too small for two people, but they lived together on a boat for quite a while, and that was smaller).

It's in a lovely complex close to campus, which is convenient for me. The windows -- blocked by trees, luckily -- look right out on I-80, which means that it's very noisy when the windows are open, although the unit has AC, so they can stay cool without open windows. Many people on the list passed over the apartment for this reason, but Dad and Fran are both so hard of hearing anyway that it's less of a factor for them. And with the windows closed, the noise isn't bad at all.

Wish us luck, please!

Not So Fast, Please!

For most of my life, people have taken me as younger than my actual age. This was extremely annoying in my twenties, although it became more welcome in my thirties and forties. However, one reason I welcomed the advent of gray hair was that it made me look more mature and distinguished.

Watch what you wish for.

I got a haircut the other day. Our local place used to charge $12 but recently went up to $14 (still a bargain!). When I went to pay for the cut, the twenty-something behind the counter said, "That will be twelve dollars."

"Twelve?" I said. "I thought it was fourteen now."

"Oh, I'm sorry!" she said. "Aren't you a senior?"

"No! I'm forty-seven!"

When I got home, I told Gary the story, and he tried to reassure me. "You hardly have any wrinkles, and you don't look a day over fifty."

I guess I'm going to have to speed up that claiming-graceful-cronehood project.

Grand Rounds

Yes, I know, I've been terrible about blogging this month. I'm going to try to catch up with a flurry of posts. In meantime, here's a link to this week's edition of Grand Rounds.


Sunday, August 10, 2008

Lotsa Shopping

This weekend I've been on a back-to-school binge. Yesterday morning I spoke to a local writers' group about writing and healing, and about why trauma survivors often gravitate towards fantasy (not because it's "escapist," but because the fantastic represents trauma, in its surreality and distortion, better than realism can). On the way back home, I planned to stop at the yarn store for help with a snarled project.

Unfortunately, my route carried me right past the Birkenstock store.

In a moment of weakness, I went in. They were having their annual sale: uh-oh! Well, I did need a pair of dress sandals for work, since I can't wear Keens with everything.

I wound up getting these very pretty Naot sandals; they were more than I'd wanted to spend, even on sale, but they fit perfectly and are supremely comfortable, and I have trouble finding open sandals that work with my finicky feet. And anyway, every woman should have a pair of strappy red shoes, right, even if they're sensible flats?

Unfortunately, I then kept shopping, trying on anything in my size that seemed even remotely appealing.

In the process, I became completely smitten with these El Naturalista boots. For one thing, they're so comfortable that I didn't want to take them off, even in August; for another, they remind me a lot of some other boots I had once, low with a knit top. I loved those boots, and mourned when I outgrew them. And these were marked almost half off.

I dithered: should I buy both pairs of shoes? I called home and left a mesage for Gary -- who was out hiking, as it turned out -- asking him to call me so I could confer. But since I had to wait, I browsed the sale clothing.

Well, to make a long story short, Gary didn't call back because he was on the mountain, and I walked out of the store with both pairs of shoes, a pair of slacks, and two shirts. I spent a lot of money. (And then, of course, it turned out that the yarn store -- the reason I'd taken that road -- was closed!)

Today, to try to make up for my vice with a little virtue, I packed up seven pairs of shoes, sandals and hiking boots to take to Good Will. Then I went to the dollar store to get stuffed animals for kids at the hospital. Lo and behold, the dollar store was selling seamless stretch camisoles, which I love but don't own in large numbers, because in catalogs they tend to be $20+. Could the ones from the dollar store possibly fit?

I guessed at my size, a medium, and bought two. When I got home, I discovered that they fit perfectly, so I went back and bought all the mediums they had. I'm now the proud owner of twelve new camisoles, which cost a whopping $12 (oh, okay, maybe $13 or $14 with tax). I'll wear them every day -- they're much more comfy than bras -- so having that many isn't out of line.

That helped balance yesterday's extravagance, but I still needed a plastic bin for the hospital toys. The dollar store didn't have any; Ross didn't have any; the supermarket and drugstore didn't have any that were large enough. I knew that Office Depot would have them, but that's a bit of a drive from here.

So I fell back into vice. I broke one of my cardinal rules, violating the innermost principles of my very being. I done wrong.

I went to WalMart.

A WalMart Superstore opened here a few years ago. I'd never been inside the building, and I can't say that I'll be strongly tempted to go back. But I did get the size of plastic bin I was looking for, and the critters have now been delivered to the ED (where everybody I saw on the medical staff looked wild-eyed and frantic; they were having a very busy shift).

And yes, I know, in terms of shopping ethics, the Dollar Store probably isn't any better than WalMart.

I think my vice this weekend outweighs my virtue; but at least I'm copping to it, right?

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Dad and His Friend Fran

My father's still in Philly -- we're waiting for a low-income apartment to open up in Reno -- and his friend Fran is visiting him to celebrate her birthday next week. They've known each other about twenty years and have been an off-again on-again couple, although right now they're just best friends; they talk on the phone every day. Fran was my father's first mate and only crew when he brought his wooden sailboat from Chicago to Mobile, Alabama via rivers and inland waterways, an epic adventure that began in 1989 and lasted nine months, instead of the three he'd planned.

Today my sister drove Dad and Fran to Hopewell Junction, New York, to see a house where my family lived before I was born. I've heard stories about this place my whole life; everyone's nostalgic for it. My parents' and sister's years there were a kind of golden age. My sister drove Dad up there a few months ago, and he was incredibly moved by seeing the house again, but also sad.

I love this photo, even though he looks a little sad here, too. But he also looks pretty darn good for eighty-six!

Thursday, August 07, 2008

New Digs

Today I worked my first shift in our new ED, which has been under construction for months. Actually, I worked my first shift in half of our new ED; the old ED is currently being gutted, and will become the other half.

But this half's still lots bigger than our old quarters. One of the staff chaplains told me that the medical folks complain about being more tired after their shifts because of extra walking, and after my measly four hours today, I was completely bushed. When the other half opens up, I'm going to have to start rollerblading from bed to bed. Either that or the hospital will have to install moving walkways, like the ones in airports.

Okay, so it's exercise, and I can always use more of that. More seriously, the room numbering system's a little wonky. There are Treatment Rooms (there will ultimately be over forty of them), Trauma Rooms, and Triage Rooms. Each has a 1-X numbering system, but since treatment and trauma both start with TR -- at least I don't have to worry about triage! -- abbreviations become tricky. We're used to referring to patients by bed number ("Hey, Susan, 3 wants some water!"), and having to specify Trauma 3 or Treatment 3 will, I predict, become annoying fast.

The staff seems as puzzled by the new nomenclature as I am. The whiteboard with patient names had Ms in front of some room numbers. I asked a nurse what they meant, and she said, "I don't know." Then she turned to another nurse and said, "I asked you about that, remember? What those Ms mean?"

The three of us trooped over to the whiteboard and tried to puzzle it out. "It means monitor," one nurse said. "Those are the monitored rooms."

"But all the rooms have monitors," said the other nurse, "and they don't all have Ms."

"Maybe the Ms mean that those patients are on monitors?" I suggested.

Nurse #1 shook his head. "That's a good theory, but look, this room has an M and it's empty."

We never did figure it out.

Meanwhile, there are new door codes to learn -- plus, my entry badge wasn't working for the first half of the shift, although it started working later on, thank goodness -- and of course there are still boxes all over the place, and no one's sure where a lot of things are. As soon as I showed up, I hunted down the water and ice dispenser (we now have several of them, which is handy), the linen cart, and the blanket warmer, since warm blankets and ice water are the most popular things I provide, after prayer. I never did find the plastic bin of coloring materials I relied on in our old ED, but one of the nurses had carefully moved the last set of stuffed animals I'd brought in; I found them neatly bagged in a storage room. That was a blessing, since we had a lot of kids today, and the toys went fast. Before next week's shift, I want to get a plastic bin for stuffed animals, fill it with critters from the dollar store, and label it with a sign asking folks to donate when the supply's running low.

I also need to adjust to the greater level of privacy. Most rooms have only one bed, which can be shielded both by a curtain -- usually drawn -- and by a sliding glass door. This is excellent for the patients, but less so for me. I'm used to being able to glance in the door of the room, look at the patient in the bed, and know (without disturbing the patient) if this is someone I've already visited, or if the room has acquired a new occupant since the last time I came around. The doors and curtains make this process much more cumbersome and intrusive than it used to be.

But, of course, some things never change. Remember the world's most unpopular ED patient? The nurse who'd given him such a hard time grinned at me today and said, "Remember our friend Mr. X? The one I told you not to talk to or touch?"

"The one you yelled at, cursing him and telling him he deserved to die?" I asked. "Yes, I remember him very well."

The nurse, and several other people standing nearby -- another nurse and a social worker -- started laughing, probably at my chutzpah. (One of the advantages of being a volunteer is that I worry a lot less about getting fired than I would if the job were paying the mortgage.)

"Oh, all right," the first nurse said, still laughing. "So I was a little . . . angry at him, I admit. But I'm better now. I said three Hail Marys."

"Nope," I said. "Sorry. For that, you have to go to Africa to work with AIDS orphans." Everyone laughed again, but the social worker nodded at me.

"Yeah, well, anyway, he's here, out in the waiting room, if you want to go say hi."

I went to say hi. Mr. X was very under the influence. He asked if I'd sit with him, if I'd be his friend. He asked if he could have some food. I told him that I'd try to score him some crackers.

"So," I said to the Newly Reformed Nurse back in the ED, "may I give Mr. X some crackers?"

"Sure! See, I've turned over a new leaf! Last time, I wouldn't let you give him food! I'm a new person!"

"I'm so happy to hear that," I said. Laughter.

"You know what? Give him some water, too. Heck, give him some juice!"

So I did, and sat next to Mr. X while he drank his orange juice. He was less coherent than he was last time, though, and when he started telling me loudly -- in the waiting room, in earshot of small children -- how his war wounds didn't interfere with his getting an erection, I decided it was time to visit some other patients. (Really, dude, I'm delighted for you, but TMI, okay?)

The next time I went into the waiting room, Mr. X was gone; Newly Reformed Nurse said, "Yeah, I couldn't find him, either." We both figured he'd left, but I'm sure he'll be back.

The new ED is all shiny and spacious, but I kind of miss our old, cramped one. I wonder if our frequent flyers will feel the same way, if they'll feel as disoriented as I did today. So many of them are psych patients, and I suspect that for them, the change will seem frightening and surreal, especially after both halves of the ED are in operation and the staff's performing synchronized blood draws on roller skates.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The Amazing Invisible Cat

I got home late from work yesterday, only to have Gary tell me that he hadn't seen Bali all day. This is more than unusual: not only is Bali very fond of his foodbowls and toys, but we call him our "puppy-cat" because he likes to be close to us, especially to Gary and Gary's keyboard.

Gary had searched everywhere in the house, several times, and had done sweeps of the garage. No Bali. "He must have gotten outside," Gary said. He could have slipped into the garage when I was leaving in the morning, or when Gary was taking out the garbage, and then gotten outside when the garage door opened. He's terrified of that noise, and it always sends him racing back into the house, but maybe this time, he raced in the other direction.

My heart sank. I thought of cars, dogs, coyotes. The last time a cat ran off, we never saw him again; it was heartbreaking. That's why we're so careful about keeping the cats inside. "At least he's micro-chipped," I said, "so if someone catches him and he gets brought to a shelter or a vet, we'll get him back."

We went outside. We looked in the backyard and under the deck; no Bali. We looked in the front yard. No Bali, although we did see a cute rabbit, a sight I'd have enjoyed more if I hadn't been worried sick about the Black Fuzzball of Doom.

We went back inside. We searched the house again. We got flashlights and did another sweep of the garage. "There are a lot of hiding places in here," I said, looking at the welter of boxes and old luggage and bicycle parts heaped against one wall. "I can't imagine him running outside. He's terrified of the garage door; it would make more sense for him to hide in here. Remember how he hid behind the shoes all day when the AT&T guy was here?"

So we started moving boxes, old luggage, and bicycle parts. We started at the end closest to the garage door and worked back, towards the house. I kept thinking I saw movement, or cat-shaped shadows, but it always turned out to be nothing, just a trick of the flashlight.

Finally, when we'd gotten almost all the way to the wall the garage shares with the house, I saw something wedged between an old chair and an empty box. Was that a patch of black fur, or were my eyes playing tricks on me again?

I touched it. Fur!

"Bali!" I said, and stroked the fur. A moment later, I saw two golden eyes as he raised his head. "Gary, I found him!"

"Oh, thank God!"

He wasn't crazy about being coaxed out -- he must have been really scared by the garage door -- but we got him back into the house, where he chowed down on his catfood while Gary and I cleaned off the layers of dust we'd accumulated in the garage. We gave him extra pats all night; when we were watching TV, he even curled up on my lap for a millisecond, which is unheard of.

Gary called him "the Prodigal Son." I was thinking more of the one lost sheep, myself. In any case, I think it's interesting that Gary leaped to Biblical allusions as quickly as I did, even though he always says he's an apathist.

There are no apathists when it comes to lost cats.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

My Morning Walk

This morning dawned cloudy and cool, with blessedly clear air and some actual sprinkles of rain on the deck. Coming after a summer when we've often been advised not to go outside because of horrendous air quality (smoke and smog) and when the temperature's often been scorching even when the air was breathable, today's conditions feel like a small miracle. I'd been planning to go to the gym to work out on the elliptical, but instead, I took a walk in our neighborhood to look at the mountains and smell the sagebrush.

Along the way, I met a friendly Siamese cat and an equally friendly German shepherd (whose person was very happy that I liked her dog so much), and also saw a rabbit and many birds. And rising above the six-foot wooden fence of one yard, I saw a huge sunflower, which immediately put me in mind of Jack and the Beanstalk. This photo's not mine, but it gives you the idea!

Meanwhile, I've cleaned my office at work, although my study at home's still a disaster. I've been writing a little every day in my journal, and often working on the book, too. My feelings about the book fluctuate wildly, but I guess I just have to keep on keeping on.

Today I'm going to buy some fresh flowers for my office, a rare luxury. (Flowers at home are problematic, since the cats view them as salad.) I'd decided to do that last night, but now they'll remind me of the sunflower.

Oh, the Tide of Phlegm has finally ceased. Yesterday I swam for the first time in about a week, which felt great.

Autumn's coming! Thanks be to God!

Grand Rounds

This week's edition is up, with a South Park theme. South Park is evidently the antidote to training ADD rats. Who knew?

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Which of These Items is Not a Shoe?

Yesterday the nice AT&T man spent eight hours at our house installing fiber-optic service. The upshot is that our phones are working fine, we indeed have TV -- most of which appears moronic, although I enjoyed some snippets of Animal Planet -- but we haven't had internet access until a few minutes ago, even though Gary spent two hours on the phone with tech support this morning. Oy.

Anyway, while the installation guy was in the house, we kept the cats in the bedroom. Harley and Figgy complained but were fine. Bali, apparently believing that he was going to be whisked off to the vet at any moment, vanished. We thought maybe he'd gotten out of the room. We looked all over the bedroom, all over the house, even outside.

We finally found him in the bedroom, cowering behind the shoe rack. Even after we opened the bedroom door, even after the AT&T guy left, he huddled among the shoes. I finally coaxed him out, and got this photo (a rather fine one, if I do say so myself) in the process.

Poor baby! But he's his usual rambunctious self this morning.

Meanwhile, I think my cold's finally improving. Yesterday I was producing roughly my own body weight in phlegm every hour (aren't you glad I just put that image in your head?), and basically felt like I'd been hit by a semi. At one point, the inside corner of my left eye started throbbing and dripping whenever I blew my nose. Afraid that I'd torn or detached something with all my sneezing and coughing, I called my eye doctor, who explained that tears normally drain from the tear ducts into the nose. My nasal passages were so congested that this process was working in reverse, and whenever I blew my nose, my eye watered.

Another lovely image, huh?

Luckily, the eye thing has stopped now. I'm still clearing out goop from my chest and sinuses, but I don't think I'm making more; or, at least, not as much more as I was yesterday. This is a decided improvement!