Saturday, March 29, 2008

Power of Friendship

I've spent the weekend in Wenatchee visiting my dear friend Pat. We have had an amazing, wonderful time. Friendship is a priceless treasure. Love ya girl!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Badger Holes & Mortality

My beloved injured his ankle the other day stepping in a badger hole. His work involves agricultural field research for OSU. He was out working in one of their experiment plots preparing the ground to plant mustard seed. He had noticed some badger holes so he got a shovel and proceeded to fill them in. As he went to tamp down the loose dirt over one of the holes the ground gave way to the cavity below, causing my man's ankle to twist at a nasty angle. It's not broken, but it is severely sprained. Doctor says for him to stay off of it, keep putting ice on and to not plan on any sustained walking for at least three weeks.

We had big plans for hiking the hills around Wenatchee this weekend. We were also going to go out in search of some new geocache. There were all sorts of things we intended to do since I've got the day off Friday and could make a long weekend of it. Now he won't be able to do any of those things.

We are both disappointed. Beyond that, it has made me think a bit more about our mortality and the impact the 12 year age difference between us is likely to have on us over the course of the next decade.

Up until now it has been no big deal that he was further down the road of life's season's than I. But at age 62 already I have noticed he is beginning to slow down a bit and relish his "old man's naps" whenever he can. Watching him hobble around the house with a cane as a result of this injury served as a reminder that it may not be too many more years before health issues or limited mobility could become routine challenges. How I choose to respond if/when that happens remains to be seen.

As we've talked about what we would do this weekend it became clear I really only have three options:

1) don't do the things we had planned at all since he can't do them with me.
2) do those things by myself.
3) do them with someone else.

I'm not thrilled by any of those options. This man I am married to is my best pal, my hero, my cherished companion. Even the most mundane of activities is all the more fun when he's along for the ride. But the fact remains that he CAN'T go out hiking on this trip and won't be for some time. So I'm not entirely sure what I'll do. I'll take it as it comes and make the most of it however it plays out.

The main reason for the trip is to visit our dear friends, Chuck & Pat, who we have not seen in a couple years. They had been serving a mission in the Atalanta, GA temple and then after returning from that spent this past winter in Arizona. Finally they are home so we are very anxious to go spend some time catching up with them. I'm really looking forward to just sitting and visiting. Also there are several other friends we want to go by to see. As long as Larry is careful getting in and out of the car he certainly can still enjoy visiting.

Still, watching him hobble around with his poor gimp foot has made me pause and wonder--how will I handle it if somewhere down the road he becomes ill or infirm, dealing with pain, possible incontinence or loss of cognitive ability?

When I said "in sickness or in health" I very much meant it. I am committed to this marriage for the long haul no matter what challenges may confront us. But making those promises in my 20's when we both felt young and invincible just didn't bear the weight that facing up to them at 50 and 62 does.

Husbands of two of my long time friends have had strokes in the last year. Others I know are dealing with severe diabetes, heart failure, emphysema. As I get older more and more of my contemporaries are showing me the range of what it is like to lose hold of youth. This growing old stuff isn't for sissies.

Whether it is me or him who may face significant health challenges, chances are one or the other of us will. I hope with all my heart that I'll be able to face whatever challenges that come up for us with grace, compassion and humor.

For now I'll just bring him more ice, re-wrap his ace bandage and be grateful this particular injury was not too serious. But it has served as a bit of a wake up call for rapids down river yet to come. I hope I'm up for them.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Christ is Risen!


Happy Easter Everyone!

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

Because Jesus died for us and was resurrected, everyone who has ever lived on the earth will be resurrected: "But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive".

(Lesson 239 - The Resurrected Christ)
John 3:16; John 8:12; John 11:25; John 14:6; 1 Corinthians 15:2022

This Easter day I am deeply grateful for the profound gifts of the atonement and the resurrection.

Honoring Fred

I've spent the last several hours working on one of my other blogs - the one I put together to honor / remember my father-in-law. He was a remarkable man who I loved and respected a great deal. I decided a blog would be a good way to be sure that family records would be preserved and made available to any of our clan that wants to share them. So I've been scanning documents and pictures, transcribing journals, and reviewing stories that had been recorded over the years. I still have quite a bit to add, but I think it is beginning to take shape nicely. It has been several years since his passing, but the love he had for his family still burns bright. May his memory be eternal.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Blessings A to Z

I FINALLY finsihed up my list of blessings called "Alphabet Soup" that I've been writing over on my other Blog..."Life By Design" It was an interesting experiment. Some were serious, some were silly. But all in all, I enjoyed naming the things I am grateful for according to each letter of the alphabet.

Here is the key to all those posts:

Aa Bb >
CcDd Ee Ff Gg Hh Ii Jj Kk Ll Mn Nn Oo Pp Qq Rr Ss Tt Uu Vv W w Xx Yy Z

Say what you a whole new way

The line between science fiction and reality continues to blur as new breakthroughs in technology make formerly out-of-this-world "what IF" sort of creations feasible in the here and now. A fellow teacher passed on the following piece from Live Science. Rather intriguing developments to say the least!

Voiceless Phone Calls Now Possible
By Christopher Wanjek

posted: 17 March 2008 ET

Audeo has just demonstrated their subvocal speech input device in a new context; a neckband that translates thought into speech by interpreting signals sent from the brain to the vocal chords. Audeo used it in their Thinking Man's Wheelchair for quadraplegics demonstrated last September.

The device does not provide unlimited translation; it is able to respond with about 150 basic words and phrases. It is anticipated that the device will offer unlimited vocabulary by the end of the year, through recognition of speech phonemes (see video).

Science fiction writer David Brin wrote about it specifically in his 1990 novel Earth.

She took a subvocal input device from its rack and placed the attached sensors on her throat, jaw, and temples. A faint glitter in the display screens meant the machine was already tracking her eyes, noting by curvature of lens and angle of pupil the exact spot on which she focused at any moment.
She didn't have to speak aloud, only intend to. The subvocal read nerve signals, letting her enter words by just beginning to will them...
(Read more about the Subvocal Input Device)

This technology could also make our involuntary participation in the cell phone conversations of a million strangers obsolete.

See a video of the Audeo device controlling a wheelchair. Story via Nerve-tapping neckband used in 'telepathic' chat. Thanks to Winchell Chung for contributing this item.

(This Science Fiction in the News story used with permission of - where science meets fiction)

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Good Feelings / Bad Feelings

I had a conversation with my older brother recently about an event he went to in San Francisco to listen to Eckhart Tolle. In summarizing the teachings Tolle presented, my brother related that Tolle said there are only three feeling states we should give place for in our emotional pallet: love, enthusiasm and acceptance. EVERYTHING else is getting caught up in our ego mind and the drama of our personal story which takes us away from being fully present in the now.

HMMMM. I'm not sure I buy it.

I agree that it is not useful to get stuck in worry or longing or negative judgement. But I've always believed that having a wide range of emotions that I could fully experience and express was part of what gave life its juice.

However, as I thought about it more and more, I began to recognize something. When I sort out in my head what it is I really believe about different emotional states we all experience at one time or another, I've clearly adopted an inner sense that it is "GOOD" to feel and express some things and "BAD" to feel or express others.

I'm not talking here about which emotional states are pleasurable or painful, but rather recognizing that somewhere along the line I learned a fairly elaborate set of rules dictating that certain ways of feeling were just plain WRONG. As years went by one by one emotional states would get labelled according to whether they were considered appropriate to have or not.

It might be uncomfortable to feel sad, lonely, rejected or disappointed.

But part of my brain believes that I am being bad / "sinning" any time I allow myself to feel jealousy, contempt, rage, or ingratitude. If I went by the teachings of Tolle, I would not shame myself for any of these emotions, because that in itself would be getting caught up in unnecessary personal drama. But I would learn to let go of them as not useful, viewing them as distractions that impede my connection to the greater universe.

I can't remember the original source of the quote, but I've heard it said something along the lines of "Thoughts are like birds...they are going to fly over your head. You decide if they will be allowed to make a nest in your hat."

So just what is it I believe about the pattern of thoughts / feelings / interpretations that clamour around inside my head?

At certain times in the past I have believed that it was self serving psychobabble to say there were no good feelings or bad feelings. I have believed that WHO I WAS at my core came from the culmination of all my thoughts and emotions, far more so than my behavior or outward social roles. When I have defined identity in those terms it has felt excruciatingly important to me to nurture and give place for the "good" thoughts and feelings and to painstakingly root out the "bad."

In other phases of my mental moon I have come to believe that emotions were merely chemical storms in my brain and they did not define me any more than my body temperature. Both were events that occured and influenced my experience, but my ESSENCE, my SPIRIT, my SOUL was something real that existed apart from either one. The thoughts and emotions that I experienced were neither righteous nor evil, but all were important opportunities for learning/growing/becoming if I played my cards just right in how I responded to whatever internal tableau I might find.

At still other times I have believed that what I may think and feel is irrelevant, so long as I am careful in choosing what I actually DO.

And then there are at least three or four other versions beyond that.

For the most part as I vacillate between this muddled mess of perceptions, I really do believe that INTENT and DESIRE matter.

I do put value judgements on the emotions I let percolate through my brain. I believe it is BETTER to feel grateful than to feel entitled. I believe it is BETTER to feel joy for others than to be jealous. I believe it goes way beyond just being more comfortable, but that it is is more healthy, more helpful, more right to feel peace inside than to be all a jumble with turmoil and conflict.

Yet I recognize that many times I WILL be caught up in the storm of that inner conflict. So what then? What is the best, most appropriate response to that? I serve no one well by painting myself as "getting it wrong". So I try to just notice it, put down the punitive bat of punishment, yet at the same time use clear thinking to guide myself to deliberately move in a different, more healthful way.

I think it is important to make distinctions, to be able to recognize some feelings as being desirable and others not so that I can choose how best to respond. However, I do recognize that I have a lot of mixed up, misguided "feeling rules" clamouring around the inside of my brain that sound something like the voice of Stephen King bringing up way too much dread and doom for my tastes.

So even though I am no where close to following the injunction of Eckhart Tolle, I think I could do well to let go of some of my attachments to feeling certain ways or judgement about naming emotions as right or wrong. Easy to say. Not an easy thing to change.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Power Caching

I had every intention of doing my taxes today. But I got restless and decided to hit the hiking trails in search of geocache instead. I found three on my own this morning while my beloved was in a leadership meeting at our church. Then this afternoon we went out together and found eight more. We got in a lovely walk/hike through Ft. Walla Walla Park.

I especially enjoyed the Botany series. These caches will take you to the places where specific trees, shrubs, vines or plants can be seen. Today we found Golden Currant, Snowberry, Black Hawthorne, Lodgepole Pine and Ponderosa Pine.

There were a couple hides right in town we tried for that we never could locate - too many "muggles" to do a proper search. But no matter. I prefer the hunts that take me out hiking in open areas and away from curious eyes far better than trying to look inconspicuous poking around a very busy intersection.

After a long stormy winter that has kept us indoors more than I like it felt great to get out to stretch our legs, even if it was a bit blustery. We walked a couple miles and got to see signs of spring popping up all over. It really was a lovely day.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Life Behind Bars

One of the responsibilities of my current job is to go to a medium security prison once a week to oversee the educational programs that are carried out there. It has been interesting to spend this time on the other side of the razor wire.

Over 7.2 million people were on probation, in jail or prison, or on parole at year end 2006 -- 3.2% of all U.S. adult residents or 1 in every 31 adults. (Corrections Statistics)

Justice Works reports that 600,000 people return to communities from corrections facilities each year.

What is the consequence to our society that we so routinely lock people up? How is this practice serving us? How is it limiting us?

I cannot help but remember the classic study attempted by Phillip Zimbardo at Stanford University in which students who agreed to participate in the experiment were randomly assigned to be placed in the social role of being either "prisoners" or "guards". The experiment had to be stopped early due to concerns for how those roles were negatively affecting the students.

Some have said the same forces were at work in Abu Ghraib where military detainees were inexcusably tortured. However, closer analysis shows there were plenty of differences between those two situations.

When we cover the unit on deviance my students and I get into lengthy discussions about the appropriateness of prison for various non-violent offenses. Who does it help? What alternatives are possible?

One of the interesting growth industries cropping up lately has been the emergency of Prisons for Profit - privately run corporations that build and run medium and maximum security detention facilities for hire such as the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).

An intriguing statistic I found was that "In fact, from 1975 to 1985, the serious crime rate actually decreased by 1.42 per cent while the number of state and federal prisoners nearly doubled" (Smith 1993). On the face of it that doesn't seem to make much sense. But as writer Phil Smith explains "The number of people sent to prison is actually determined by policy decisions and political expediency. Politicians of all stripes have sought cheap political points by being "tough on crime.".... He later goes on to caution:
"The most worrisome aspect of prison privatization is the inevitable emergence of a private "prison lobby" concerned not with social welfare but with increasing its dividends, not with doing good, but with doing well. Sentencing guidelines, parole rules, corrections budgets, and new criminal legislation are areas in which private prison operators have a vested interest and could influence policy decisions. They could also benefit by manipulating public fear of crime. Unlike most other public policy arenas, criminal justice policy is largely determined not by the realities of crime but by its perception. That the fear of crime is exploited by politicians and "reality television" programming is a truism; but imagine a full-fledged corporate public relations campaign designed to whip up crime hysteria in order to increase profits."

Whether it is Prisons run by the state or by private companies, the reality is that lots of jobs are generated by keeping ever increasing numbers of men and women locked up.

As Eve Goldberg and Linda Evans wrote in 1998: "The building and maintenance of prisons are big business. Investment houses, construction companies, architects and support services such as food, medicine, transportation and furniture, all stand to profit by prison expansion. A burgeoning “specialty item” industry sells fencing, handcuffs, drug detectors, productive vests and other security devices to prisons."

They go on to say: "Prisons are also a leading rural growth industry. With traditional agriculture being pushed aside by agribusiness, many rural US communities are facing hard times. Economically depressed areas are falling over each other to secure a prison facility of their own.

Prisons are seen as a source of construction, local vendor and prison staff jobs, as well as a source of tax revenues. An average prison has an annual payroll of several million dollars.

Like any industry, the prison economy needs raw materials. In this case the raw materials are prisoners. The prison-industrial complex can grow only if more and more people are incarcerated for longer periods -- even if crime rates drop."

With all that in mind...I cannot help but wonder as I go through the clanking metal doors every Tuesday, how do these concrete cages for men and women serve our society? How do they harm us all, no matter what side of the fence we are on?

Friday, March 07, 2008

The ethics of making babies

I recently read about the Kentucky mom with osteogenesis imperfecta who just gave birth to a baby almost as big as herself. It's not that the baby was huge - 18 inches is all. It's just that the mom is only 28 1/2 inches tall.

This is the second daughter born to this woman. The new baby appears to be perfectly "normal" and will be expected to grow to standard size. The first daughter was afflicted with the same genetic disorder as the mom and so will face a lifetime of pain and struggle.

Part of me celebrates the miracle of this amazing accomplishment. Doctors had warned the mother that she most likely could never carry a child to term. Because her torso is so tiny the growing fetus would smash her heart and lungs, killing them both. But that didn't happen. By all accounts, mother and daughter are doing just fine. Also the birth of the older daughter goes to show that doctors are not always right.

Still, I cannot help but wonder, at what point is the best choice, the most responsible choice to forge ahead and build a family despite significant challenges and when is it better to choose NOT to have children? Who decides?

Years ago I was acquainted with a woman who had the same disease as Stacey Herald. Although considerably taller, the woman I knew had tremendous challenges. She also had four children, ALL born with osteogenesis imperfecta.

I know of another family in which a mentally retarded mother has two mentally retarded children she is unable to care for. Would it have been better if those children had never been born?

We've all known of families in which child after child after child is popped out when it appears rather evident that the parent(s) have neither the physical or emotional resources to deal with them. Does that make it WRONG for the woman to continue to get pregnant?

As we learn more and more about genetic testing, we have to face the reality that most families have a mixed bag of chromosomes and genes. My own boys both inherited my poor vision and my family's predisposition to heart disease and cancer. Yet I certainly would not think they or the world would be better off had they never been born just because they are not biologically ideal. However, had I had some extreme disability would I have felt different about bring babies into life?

I don't know.

For the most part I do believe that all life is sacred. I have seen first hand through my stepson, Troy, who is brain damaged how much a handicapped child can bless the lives of all who know him. But if I KNEW before getting pregnant that the chances were 50/50 of bearing a child with a brain disorder, a major organ malfunction, or some other illness, would I take the risk?

In the Sociology of the Family class that I teach we have been discussing the factors that go into influencing the decision whether or not to have kids. I suppose there are some people who do give it serious thought. I suspect most do not.
But at what point does it make sense for a couple to keep trying to reproduce their own genes and when should they explore other options?

I would not suggest denying someone the right to be a parent simply because he or she faces significant challenges. Or would I? Do I support the right of seriously mentally ill patients to have babies? Do I support the right of someone who has ten or fifteen children already the right to continue propagating? Do I support the right of someone who cannot afford to care for themselves the right to bring babies into their family?

There is a difference, I think, and a rather substantial one - between thinking a choice may be misguided and proposing it be restricted. I would seriously question the wisdom of getting pregnant in any of the above situations. But I would not support any law that would stand in the way of it.

How much can a responsible, compassionate society permit individual members freedom to make choices that have painful/negative consequences for themselves and others?

The old axiom goes that my right to extend my arm stops where your nose begins. So by that rationale we can do things that have some negative consequences so long as they don't hurt someone else. But what about the most serious of personal/private choices - like deciding to make a baby? Doesn't that very much have direct impact on someone else?

Is there ANY circumstance that would justify mandatory sterilization? Yes. I can think of one or two. I knew a woman who used abortion as her primary form of birth control. When I met her in her mid twenties she had already had seven. I found that absolutely reprehensible. I thought she should lose the right to create life.

But what of these other circumstances? It's complicated business.

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