Thursday, August 30, 2007

An Almost Novel Idea

Crushed recycled glass! That’s an idea.

Recently I took materials to the local recycling center and looked at the mountain of free crushed glass near the crushing equipment. An idea grabbed me. “Why not use the glass in place of sand in a concrete footer that I’m planning?”

Hey! That’s a great idea. Why didn’t someone think of this before me?

Yep. You guessed it. My novel idea wasn’t so novel.

I went to the web and searched for “crushed glass concrete” and found thousands of articles. Tests have been conducted to determine the wisdom of using crushed glass in concrete.

Oh, well. Maybe I didn’t think of it first, but, as it turns out, it’s a good idea.

This weekend, on top of a rubble trench foundation, I'll pour a ribbon of concrete mixed with glass.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Observing Myself

On my way home from work I was traveling too fast but it was intentional. The road was dry, clean and smooth having been repaved a few months earlier. The next turn was bracketed by guardrail on the right and a shallow drainage ditch paralleling a high steep bank on the left. Curiosity caused me to increase the gas as I neared the curve. No one was in front. I checked both mirrors and saw only empty highway behind me. When I passed the yellow warning sign I was doing well over the speed limit.

I entered the curve and . . . nothing happened. I came out of the turn as mystified as I entered it. How did I do that?

I’ve been riding motorcycles for over 40 years. About five years ago it occurred to me that I don’t know how I do it. I come up turns and navigate them without conscious thought or any movement in my body. It’s as if I and the motorcycle are one. We’re like some type of borg creation from a Star Trek episode. I spent the last half of one summer trying to solve this mystery. On one occasion I thought I felt a slight shift in my hips. It wasn’t a lean to the left or right but a subtle shift of weight that would be imperceptible to observers. Shifting my weight slightly does affect my direction but it doesn’t explain a sharp turn at high speed. How do I do it? Winter came and the mystery was stored away and forgotten until last summer when I finally solved it.

I rode more miles last summer than I have in several years and continued to be mystified. Each day as I came home from work, I consciously thought about what happened each time I entered one specific turn. One sunny afternoon, about halfway through the summer, I felt a slight tightening of the muscles in my arms and I had the answer. Upon a curve to the left, I unconsciously pull back on the right handgrip, press down on the left handgrip and sometimes, depending on my speed and the sharpness of the turn, shift my weight to my left hip. It’s all very slight, subtle and spontaneous.

Before I solved this small mystery, I enjoyed riding but now I enjoy it more. For me, life seems to be that way. The more I observe nature, other people -- and myself, -- the richer and more enjoyable life becomes. There are still mysteries that I don't understand about this person that lives withing me. I like observing him and getting to know him.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Fun for the Wrong Reason

I'm doing the right thing for the wrong reason and having all kinds of fun.

When I chose lifestyle changes over medicine I began reading on nutrition, cholesterol, factors contributing to heart disease and healthy habits. Julie joined me in this adventure and has been reading with me. Normally she drives us to work and I drive us home. Now, I drive both ways and she reads aloud one of the books that we purchased. We've learned more about fats, organic chemistry, inflamation, cholesterol, flavonoids, isoflavones, fiber, vitamins and other items that I knew existed. It's been pure fun.

Part of the enjoyment has been trying new foods -- soy products, salads made from fish high in omega-3s, grains that I didn't know existed and other exotic foods. Julie takes the lead in food choice and preparation and everything she's fixed has been a winner on my menu score card.

Why all the fun for the wrong reason? As I've thought back to the night that we went to the emergency room I've become convinced that I was dehydrated. I passed out due to the dehydration and was feeling pain from the fall I had a few days earlier. There's nothing seriously wrong with me and I'm not concerned about my health. So, the reason I'm working on nutrition and lifestyle changes is not to improve my health but to prove the doctor wrong.

Occasionally, I hear a prideful conversation praising U.S. health care and damning the Canadian system. It always irritates me because it's based on rumor lacking facts -- facts about Canadian health care and U.S. health care. In my opinion and from my recent experience, I don't think we have an excellent system. We have high rates of cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other preventable illnesses. Medical professionals prescribe diet pills, antidepressants, insulin, statins and medicines to control hypertension rather than treating the cause of these concerns. We are sent from specialist to specialist and nowhere does the responsibility settle. Few have the courage or integrity to say "you don't need drugs -- you're too fat, you need to exercise more, you need to learn and eat better nutrition or you need to develop some social support".

I've having an enjoyable time improving my health just to prove the medical community wrong. Childish perhaps but fun.

With the changes I'm making, rather than live to be ninty-some, I'll live to be over 100 and have all kinds of fun growing old.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Reverence for Life

Reverence for life mandates a second counter.

To the right side bar I've added another sorrow counter -- "Iraqi Deaths Due to U.S. Invasion". Last year, when I added the "US Deaths in Iraq" counter,I searched for a counter to keep Iraqi deaths equally in my consciousness but was unable to find anything suitable.

Reverence for life is hollow unless it is reverence for all life.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Sources

I felt like hell this morning – impatient, irritable, frustrated -- other unpleasant things. I knew why. Last night I watched a documentary on genetic engineering then went to bed and read a portion of one of Wendell Berry’s essays describing the destruction of farm lands and small communities.

I refuse to act on the truth – the truth that I think the future is hopeless. At some point, mankind will destroy himself. At the least, the population will be reduced to a fraction of its current level. I don’t think this is a bad thing. It’s simply Nature’s way. The sad part is that we’ll do massive harm to Nature as we destroy ourselves.

Regardless, I refuse to act on this belief. I’ll live as if my actions will make a difference but that’s not the issue today.

The issue is that I felt bad and chose to do something about it. Looking for a solution I visited the blog of a young lady whom I’ve never met but respect. Like all of us, she struggles with injustice, apathy and evil – that uniquely human characteristic. I read her thoughts for today and felt better.

Has anything changed? No! I still believe the future is hopeless but somehow, in some mysterious way, I feel better. It’s amazing that a sense of community with other people, even people we’ve never met, can temper our experiences.

It’s ironic. People are the source of misery and people can be a source of happiness.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Memories of Flowers

Flowers have flawless memories, soft voices and compassionate spirits.

I glance at the upright leaves of a Mother-in-Law’s Tongue and it remembers and whispers my mother’s name. A Peace Rose always speaks of my daughter and from a bryophyllum I hear my father’s voice. It’s true. A Mother-in-Law’s Tongue tried to speak to me a few months ago but I was deaf to its voice. Recently, however, three small Mothers-of-Thousands joined together and made me hear and understand. Let me explain.

Mothers-of-Thousands (bryophyllum). Notice the small plantlets on the ends of the leaves of the top plant. (Larger version)

At a master gardener class I broke four or five plantlets from the leaf of a mature plant and stuck them in the pocket of my jeans. When I arrived home I dropped three of them into the end of a long flowerbox with an Aloe and gave them a drink. The sisters looked so small, delicate and fragile but they took root. After a few weeks I moved them to individual peat pots and they began to grow and look healthy. One grew quickly and developed two tiny plantlets on each of two leaves. As I looked closely at the tiny miracles, I felt a sense of irrational fear blended with hope – fear that they would die and hope that at least one would mature and bear many small ones. Why was it important to me? Because I had a similar plant twenty-nine years ago that was a gift.

At that time I lived in a house with an enclosed back porch. I filled the window sills with about fifty plants – African Violet, Wandering Jew, Prayer Plant, Spider Plant and others. My father visited and brought a Mother-of-Thousands and some other plants that I’ve forgotten. For some reason -- perhaps it was something he said -- I identified the bryophyllum with him.

He’s been dead for over twenty years. About a year after his funeral, I visited my mother and noticed a small Mother-in-Law’s Tongue sitting near a window. As I looked at it and ran my finger along its leaves, she said that it had been part of an arrangement at his funeral. When the other flowers in the arrangement died, she moved it to another pot. For the next fifteen years, whenever I visited, I checked the plant and it became a lonely symbol of her solitude in a house that had once been home to a family of five. Often, as the years passed she would see me checking it and tell me again that it came from Dad’s funeral.

Julie inherited a Mother-in-Law’s Tongue when she moved into an office at work. She brought it home but wasn’t pleased with its aged look. Whenever she mentioned pitching it out, I heard its plea and came to its defense. Now I understand. The Mother-in-Law’s Tongue tried to tell me but it was the Mothers-of-Thousands who made me hear. Flowers, in their compassion, are keepers of treasured memories. We need them.

My daughter, Dawn, was in the hospital and a friend gave her a Peace Rose. We planted it in the yard and it learned her name. Now, after two decades, I see a Peace Rose and it tells me stories of her.

Years ago I used to go each fall with Cindy, a friend in Kentucky, to an Amish farm to dig a pickup bed full of Mums. I still have a memory of her and a young barefooted Amish girl in a long cotton dress who watched us with beautiful wide eyes. As we moved down the rows of hundreds upon hundreds of Mums, she would follow us at a safe distance. I tried to engage her in polite conversation but she never spoke except with her eyes. I can’t forget her or Cindy. The Mums won’t let me forget. They remind me each time I see them.

What flower speaks to me of Julie? None! I hope one never does. I’d rather have her than some beautiful flower singing a sad song of memories of her.

This past week I received two more houseplants, a Prayer Plant and a Crown-of-Thorns. They were gifts from a neighbor. Hopefully, by Thanksgiving our attached greenhouse will be finished and I’ll move these and other flowers into it. I plan on filling it and raising more flowers. If the Mother-of-Thousands mature, I think I’ll pot several plantlets and give them as gifts. It’s pleasant to think that after I’m gone someone will look at a flower and hear its soft voice reminding them of me. That would be a good memorial. Flowers never forget.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

WIn, Win and Win

He offered me drugs. I said “No”.

He responded with more arguments in favor of drugs and, again, I said “No”.

My cholesterol is in the “normal’ range according to the lab report but the cardiologist uses a more strict standard and, since I’ve had an “abnormal stress test”, he wants to prescribe statins.

All lab results (blood sugar, pulse, blood pressure, etc) are in the “normal” range with two exceptions. First, I weight 203 which is 4 or 8 pounds overweight depending on the standard used. Second, my BMI (body mass index) is 25.5 and should be 24.9 or less.

I don’t want drugs. I want lifestyle changes. Here’s my logic.

Arguments for Drugs
  1. Effective for reducing LDL cholesterol.
  2. Quick, easy and painless solution requiring little effort.
  3. Will enrich the drug companies which have massive expenses due to spending more on political lobbying than any other industry.

Arguments for Lifestyle Changes
  1. Effective in reducing LDL (bad) cholesterol.
  2. Effective in raising HDL (good) cholesterol.
  3. Can produce weight loss.
  4. Can lower BMI.
  5. Requires research to learn about diet, nutrition, exercise, stress management and diet supplements (vitamins and herbal remedies). Research stimulates the brain and slows aging.
  6. New knowledge better enables me to discuss health issues with medical professionals.
  7. Julie can take part in research and learning so she benefits from mental stimulation.
  8. Julie can take part in lifestyle changes (diet, exercise, etc) so her health improves also. (Julie did have her cholesterol tested about the same time and her results are excellent! She's in a maintenance mode.)
  9. Julie and I can research and make changes together so it becomes a bonding opportunity and our marriage benefits.
  10. Lifestyle changes will benefit the heart and will provide some protection against other diseases (cancer, dementia, etc) beyond the benefit of drugs alone.
  11. Lifestyle changes necessitate omitting processed foods and eating more fresh fruits and vegetables which saves energy now devoted to processing food.
  12. Eating more fresh fruits and vegetables gives the opportunity to buy from local farmers and eliminates the need to transport some food great distances thus eliminating some greenhouse gas.
  13. Lifestyle change take work and effort so I'll get a sense of accomplishment.
  14. My lifestyle changes may provide an example for and be an encouragement to family, friends and co-workers.
  15. Increased exercise can be channeled into productive physical labor.
  16. And, there are other reasons

I'm committed to lifestyle changes.

I win because my health improves.

Julie wins because her health improves also.

Everyone and all living creatures win because our lifestyle changes will contribute less to pollution and global warming. Some may argue that this is an insignificant amount but, regardless, I think it's a winning move.

Win,win and win! I like that.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Playing With The Birds

“Get the camera and come here!”

It was nearing dark last night when Julie called to me. I found her leaning on the deck rail holding a nectar feeder. A hummingbird was sitting on the feeder alternating between taking an occasion drink and staring up at her face. After a few moments the bird hovered about two feet in front of her before moving closer for an eye to eye investigation. A few minutes of patient waiting and the bird – or another that looked identical – returned and repeated the process.

Curious Hummingbird
Curious Hummingbird (Larger version)

I never tire of watching and playing with animals. I have a black and white photo of myself at about age two holding a dog that I cannot remember. My first memorable dog was Curly, part Cocker Spaniel, who became my constant companion before I started school.

My last dog involves a sad tale of betrayal. Tippy was just weaned when I got him. He was never the most intelligent dog which may have had something to do with an accidental fall on his head to which I and my fumbling hands were party. Though not bright he was overly friendly and never met a stranger.

Hummingbird taking a closer look
Taking a Closer Look (Larger version)

I left for college and he did anything that popped into his mind and went wherever he chose. One weekend I returned home and he wasn’t there. About two hours later, I was in the kitchen and asked my mother if she had seen him in the last day or two. She began to cry. Most people might assume he had died in an unfortunate accident but not me. I watched her cry and said “You gave him away, didn’t you!?”. She shook her head yes and the last dog I ever owned became a memory.

But, to her credit, Mom did teach me a valuable skill. When I was pre-school age a stray cat came around the corner of the house into the side yard. I wanted that cat but couldn’t get close enough to grab it. Mom engineered a plan and told me what to do.

Up Close and Personal Hummingbird
Getting Up Close and Personal (Larger version)

I went to the garage up the hill behind the house. The building was filled with dust, tools, an old Indian motorcycle and other items. After a search, I found a small piece of wood, a wooden crate and some rope. In the side yard the crate was propped upside down by the short block of wood that was tied with the rope which stretched across the yard to the corner of the house. I placed a bowl of milk under the crate and I had a low-tech cat trap that worked flawlessly – except for one minor detail. The box that wasn’t long enough for the cat’s tail.

Have you ever reached under a box to grab a frightened cat that has just had his tail hammered by a wooden crate? I wanted that cat and a few claws weren’t enough to deter me. I held on in spite of the pain and blood.

He and I became good friends and he became my first biology teacher. A few months later he had a litter of kittens and I learned that Bugs was a she. She had her litter somewhere in the barn away from the dog. The kittens grew up wild and free. I used the crate, stick, rope and milk bowl trap to catch them.

My children had cats, dogs, chickens, rabbits, pigs and other animals and the fun and play continued. At the creative age of 16 my son put a hole in a piece of bread and threaded the cat’s tail though it. The cat was trying to figure out what was affixed to his tail when my son dropped the cat in front of the dog who was always hungry. Unlike the cat, the dog and I count this among our pleasant memories.

I no longer own pets but my life is richer than ever with the wildlife that entertains, teaches, befriends and mystifies us.

At breakfast this morning, Julie was talking about the movement of some small muscle or vein in the top of the birds head as it fed at the feeder she was holding last night. “Tonight you’ve got to try it!” I might do that. I’d like to play with the birds.