Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Well duh

I am plugging through a 200-page document from a local government in order to help my client submit public comment, and here's a little snippet for you:

" study reports that more than half of [low-income] mothers who have recently given birth report low to moderate postpartum depression, and women were much more likely to report severe postpartum depression if they were homeless, she or her husband/partner went to jail, someone close to her had a problem with drinking or drugs, she moved, she or her husband/partner lost their job, she had a lot of bills she couldn’t pay or she was physically abused during pregnancy."
So, you're more likely to be depressed if you're homeless, in jail, unable to pay your bills, or getting the crap beat out of you? Ya THINK?

Kind of like an audience with the queen

This past weekend Enrico went backpacking with a friend who lives out on the Kitsap Peninsula, while I joined his wife - my childhood friend - along with their kids and our dogs, at their lovely, wooded, secluded waterfront property.

The dogs were pretty much in heaven out there. Julie & Dan's dog went backpacking with the boys, which is what made it all workable because whenever the three dogs are together, Nelly is stubbornly fixated on beating Pinion up while Pinion is understandably fixated on avoiding Nelly. Which requires a lot of vigilance on everyone's part. Nelly is smart. When she sees that she isn't getting her way, she'll lie down and act all "oh well, I give up on trying to eat the small dog, I'm sure he's not that tasty anyway" - and then when we've all let our guard down, she'll lunge, and pandemonium ensues.

So, for them to have full run of Pinion's house and woods, to drink from his water bowl and pee on his scent, was pure joy.

Both my dogs do fine with little kids, though I'm more wary about Nelly now that she's getting old and has arthritis. If a toddler where to hurl herself onto Nelly's back end, for example, I am quite confident that the resulting pain would be sharp enough to earn a snap from her, though probably not a bite. Which is of course completely logical from the dog's perspective - a snap being their way of saying, dude, that REALLY hurts so please don't do it again - and completely unacceptable from the parent's perspective. So we encourage kids to focus their love on Toby instead, who will tolerate absolutely any manhandling and abuse. You can hug him, flip him, haul him around like a sack of potatoes, squeeze him and call him George.

Little three-year-old Sophie learned the drill very quickly, diligently reminding us over and over that we "have to be gentle with Nelly!" And yet, kids can't resist Nelly, with her floppy ears and silly curled tail and that impossibly soft, lush coat of fur. I was very proud of my black dog. She put up with a hug, and a bucket dropped on her head, and pudgy little fingers in her face. Most impressively, she presented Sophie with her belly for a rub, an honor that she confers so selectively and rarely that it took my breath away to see it. Sophie is probably one of a half-dozen people on earth who have been offered Nelly's belly, though she's too young to appreciate the honor. She just ran her little fingers through the super-soft fur in the crook of Nelly's hind legs, repeating oh so softly "Gentle! Gentle with Nelly."

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

It's back!

My computer is back! The nice people at HP replaced the motherboard and shipped the machine back to me all in one day. They didn't have to wipe the hard drive, so I don't have to spend a day reinstalling software and files. It's just back, and ready to rock n' roll. The knock at the door from the FedEx guy was a pleasant surprise, since HP's customer tracking system still showed us scheduled for a Friday reunion.

The old machine was a trooper, I must say. It stepped up to the challenge very competently. But oh, the racket it makes, as if there's a really old, rickety, 24-inch box fan inside there cooling off the processor. Or perhaps it runs on a vacuum cleaner motor, I'm not sure. Every night when it powered down I'd breath a contented sigh, my ears ringing with the welcome sound of silence. Now that the regular machine is back, I am even more appreciative than ever of its quiet sleekness.

Let's never, ever fight again, little machine. I'm sorry I threatened to replace you with a Mac.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Ode to the brain

I have this wacky case of vertigo today, I assume it's some kind of inner ear thing. I've been feeling queasy on and off for a few days, and I thought I had some kind of stomach bug but maybe it's related to the vertigo. I'm walking around feeling like I just got off a really nasty carnival ride, ready to heave my breakfast and fall to the floor in a fit of dizziness.

I'm sure it will pass (and if it doesn't I'll get my ass to a doctor), but it is one of those experiences that makes me marvel at the wonders of the brain. When you think about the mechanics involved, it's pretty amazing that we're not constantly stumbling around in a dizzy, disoriented state. The part of the inner ear that maintains balance is a complex series of circular tubes filled with fluid and tiny, little hairs that monitor the distribution of the fluid and send signals to the brain - which matches these up with visual inputs to figure out which way is up, down and sideways. It does this all the time, constantly, unobtrusively in the background of our conscious thought processes.

It's kind of like the time several years ago that I had the rare form of migraine that mimics a stroke by causing expressive aphasia, the loss of language skills. I could read individual words, but could not have decoded a written sentence if my life depended on it. I was able to speak, but only in simple, slow sentences extracted with overwhelming mental effort and concentration. People spoke to me and I could follow along, more or less, but it was oh, so exhausting. Meanwhile, the thoughts inside my head - which I think of as occuring in sentences - were unimpeded. Inside my head I was observing and cataloging and analyzing my experiences with perfect clarity. I can remember standing in the toothpaste aisle at the store, staring at this baffling wall of brightly colored boxes, and thinking - "how odd; I have no idea what any of these things are."

I took a long, deep nap and woke up fine. I saw a doctor, and they scanned my brain, and determined that I didn't have a stroke or an impending aneurism. My doctor explained that a tiny little bleed in the brain sometimes sets off life-saving signals by leaking out little drops of blood, because "the brain doesn't like to be touched" and thus it goes a little haywire, giving you just enough of a heads-up to fit in some emergency brain surgery before a full-blown rupture.

It was diagnosed as the atypical migraine, but afterwards - knowing it wasn't anything life-threatening - I really wanted to have the experience again. We take speech so much for granted, and I am fascinated that a tiny little hiccup in the brain could cause that function to shut down temporarily. The brain is doing all these incredibly complicated things for us, all the time, and we don't even think about it. It's amazing it doesn't hiccup more often, really.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Of dogs and grief and perspective

My computer has arrived in Memphis, TN where it is being prepped for brain surgery. I spent many hours getting this old laptop workable, and it is. It takes 10 minutes to boot up in the morning, but that's ok. I lost 10 days of email and work, but this wasn't a bad moment in time for that to happen. The computer will be gone for another 10 days, and there are tasks we can't really do without it, but nothing life-stalling. Spending time on computer glitches is the least fulfilling way to expend psychic energy - there is nothing redeeming about the experience, you don't learn something or become stronger or come out the other side a changed person in exchange for your troubles. It's just a blank. But that's all ok.

The same day that my computer imploded, my friend Xena had to put one of her dogs to sleep. Malcolm came to her when another one of my friends was going through a horrific divorce, during which she was temporarily homeless. Xena and her husband first took Malcolm in on a temporary basis, but my friend soon realized that she was not going to be able to provide him with a stable home soon, let alone the attention that he deserved. So she asked Xena and her husband if they would adopt Malcolm. It was, she says to this day, one of the hardest things she's ever done.

I love dogs in general, but anyone who met Malcolm would tell you he was an exceptionally sweet dog. There was just something in his face that expressed this unusual sensitivity and sweetness. Xena and her husband already had a dog - and two cats - but they embraced Malcolm with all their hearts and felt blessed that he had come to them. My friend who was Malcolm's person for the first eight years of his life felt blessed that he'd found such a loving home, and that she'd had the courage to give him up to it. Within the first couple years, he required two surgeries, and my friend knows she could never have afforded to give him that care. She knows that giving him a new home meant giving him life, in many ways. And indeed, he lived another eight years in his second home, a phenomenally long life for a large dog.

So I probably would've bitched more about my computer situation if it hadn't coincided with this little dose of perspective, about true loss and sacrifice, and also amazing love and new life. Both of my friends lost a little piece of their hearts this week with the passing of Malcolm. Even as I type this I'm saying to my dog Toby, "leave it, leave it, LEAVE IT" because we're in the Season of Great Allergies and he wants to lick himself raw. Nelly is whining and clingy because Enrico is out of town and this perturbs her sense of order, and I wish she didn't have this stubborn streak of separation anxiety. But this week, at least, I can't get annoyed with them, because I'm reminded that they won't always be here.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Snakes on a plane, man

As Samuel Jackson might say - I am sick and tired of these motherf***ing bugs on these motherf***ing PCs!

For the second time in a year, my PC has completely and totally died. It's not even the same PC that left me in the lurch last time; this is a brand spanking NEW one that I bought last fall to replace the old one after its unfortunate meltdown. Happily I bought a service plan on the new machine, and I have a backup that's only 10 days old, and said old computer is still usable in the meantime, but come on - what is WITH Windows, anyway?

I'm self-employed. I rely on this computer for my livelihood, not just cruising the news and booking flights. I'll be at least a week without my computer, I lose 10 days of work, and I spend some considerable hours moving backup files onto the old machine (good lord, just how slow can a USB port be?), downloading recent antivirus software, asking people to re-email me stuff from the last 10 days, blah blah blah. Not to mention the fact that this machine sounds like a motherf***ing plane, the processor is loud. It's like typing on a vacuum cleaner.

Thank heavens I'm a pretty disciplined backer-upper. I've had three colleagues say to me today "ooooh....gee, when I hear that story, I think that really ought to start backing up." Yeah. You really should. But I can tell that they just think I have terrible computer karma, and it'll never happen to them. Fools!

The thing is, I have been so fond of the new computer, with its spiffy wide screen and sleek design and comfortable keyboard. It never even had a hiccup until now. I trusted it so unquestioningly, so completely. And now, when I come home from a meeting and catch it in the act of betraying me, refusing to boot up AT ALL - how can we ever get the trust back in our relationship, HOW?

I am so, so close to buying a Mac. So what if it won't support Visio. I can learn to live with the hole in my life.

It was the Weekend of Great Spending

Last weekend I sort of tricked Enrico into going shopping with me. He's not normally the shopping type, but we were going to REI to look for hiking books on Montana and Wyoming (more on that later), and I happened to mention the two furniture stores right nearby that I wanted to visit...which resulted in...

A five-piece patio furniture set, on sale. We've been using a couple of ancient folding deck chairs that I salvaged from an attic in a decrepit group house that I lived in when I was 23 years old, and a tiny bistro table that forced us to eat with our knees tucked up under our chins. It was fine, but now - oh, the space! Room to spread out maps of Wyoming and Montana, with the laptop and a bottle of wine at hand! It's very exciting.

A new office chair and a big blue ball. Now that I've been self-employed for 2 and 1/2 years, I figured it was about time I got an ergonomically appopriate office chair instead of the $10 yard sale chair I acquired 15 years ago in graduate school. It's bitchin', let me tell you. Oh, the lumbar support! The many adjustment levers! And, just for variety, we also bought one of those big blue inflatable balls to sit on. So I have choices!

And, lastly, we did go to REI, where we bought books and maps on Yellowstone National Park. I have a client gig in Montana in the middle of September, so Enrico is joining me afterwards and we're going to visit the country's first and oldest national park (thank you, U.S. Grant!). We're very excited. I'm sure I'll be blogging about that some more.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

I refuse to let a blackberry get me down

Yeah, I know, I've been on a jag about the violence in the world and how much it bugs me, blah blah, blah blah BLAH. I'm sure it's becoming tiresome. Not so many cute stories about my dogs, or books I've read, or funny things overheard, or even slightly indiscrete stories involving my clients. (On that score, suffice to say that I only have two clients at the moment, one of whom has hired me for a full year and the other of whom can pretty much guarantee I never work again in this town if I screw up. So I'm not inclined to rock the boat.)

Life is simultaneously great and baffling. My life is great, incredibly great when I look at what other people endure, and it's hard to get my dander up about bad tech support calls, or my peculiarly bad luck with buying DVD players, or the fact that my favorite work shirt - the linchpin of my limited professional wardrobe - was ruined by a falling blackberry while out on the clothesline and what kind of reward is that for being ecologically responsible, I ask you?

I'm trying not to beat myself up so much about how much I procrastinate. I'm on a bit of a health kick, with lots of fresh produce and more exercise. I gave some extra money away to charity last week because really, other people need it more. I have the Daily Show every night to reaffirm that I'm not insane. I have Enrico and my parents and my sister and my dogs.

In other words, my life is particularly great because so much in the world is baffling, and if it doesn't give you some perspective on good fortune and gratitude, then you're just not paying attention.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

A little bit of light

When truth is stranger than anything anyone might think of blogging, what is one to blog, really? What a weird few weeks in the world.

I did attend a lovely peace march last Friday. I had sworn off peace marches because after the glorious one in March 2003 (or was it 2002? it's all a blur now...), prior to the start of the Iraq war, the rest were just huge disappointments. Like street festivals for every loopy lefty cause, from legalizing hemp to saving the minks, with an overwhelming smell of patchouli and absolutely NO prayer of changing anyone's mind.

But last Friday's march was small, and organnized by a moderate local mosque (see here and here, where I can be barely seen as an eensy little head on the right just under the "E" in PEACE). I resisted the urge to fall in with the white folks - the Menonites had a good turnout, as always - and instead found myself walking with another woman there on her own, from Sudan. Where they know a thing or two about war, and the toll it takes on regular people.

We began talking shyly at first - she asking whether I was Muslim, me asking where she was originally from. She had never been to a peace march in the US before, just anti-government demonstrations back in Sudan, which she noted had a different flavor. For example, she was pleasantly surprised that the police turned out to help and protect the protesters, which would not be the norm back in her home country. She laughed in delight to learn that the people honking at us were, by and large, doing so as a sign of support. It was a good reminder of that we've still got a lot of game here in the US, with the whole freedom-of-expression-and-assembly thing.

I asked if people in other countries look at the US and think - they're supposedly a democracy, so the people must all agree with the government, or they'd turn their leaders out. Yes, she said, that's what people think, at least the people she knows. We have the power to change our government and we don't. Which is fair, I guess, but it made me sad. She said the war in Sudan is complicated in many ways, but in other ways it goes on because people just blindly follow their leaders, whose priorities are power rather than peace. I thought to myself that in some ways, it's not so different here, and I found myself hoping she saw that too, and did not judge us too harshly.

Most of all, she seemed truly impressed and grateful that non-Muslims showed up. The low expectations made me sad in a way, but it also made the day worthwhile, to know that at least at this particular march, my choice to show up registered somehow. To have the opportunity to walk peacefully with a woman from the other side of the world, to talk and laugh for a bit, and part ways with a smile.

Monday, August 07, 2006

No need to repeat

Nicely said.

Call for Peace - Global Fund for Women


From all that dwell below the skies
let songs of hope and faith arise;
Let peace on earth, good will be sung
through every land, by every tongue.

- - Isaac Watts, 1674-1748

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Two minutes

Two minutes inside Toby's head: Hey, whatcha doing? It's good to see you! What's that noise? Better go to the window! What's out here? Scanning, scanning...My belly itches. I think I'll clean my feet. Grooming is so important. Nelly, wanna play? Come on, play with me, it'll be -- SQUIRREL! Wow, I'm kinda hungry. I could eat a stick. BUG! I feel like barking. Let's dig a hole!

Two minutes inside Nelly's head: Another day without the Ring of Power. How trying. Why does Toby bounce around so much? He lacks focus. Very sloppy attitude towards the rules, too. Oh dear, the human wants to give me terrible, terrible affection again. I'd rather have a golden trough of food. I guess the affection isn't so terrible. If only I had the Ring of Power.

Friday, August 04, 2006

What a disappointment I must be

I have a simple site meter on this blog to track visitors, and although it's very basic, it does tell me the search terms used by people who arrive here via search engine. I find this to be a fascinating little window into the things that occupy human curiosity.

Not surprisingly, I get disappointed readers from all over the world in search of practical information about shellfish - harvesting it, cooking it, identifying its many varieties, avoiding being horribly poisoned by it. Sorry, folks! But just imagine the disappointment experienced by the fine people seeking enlightenment on these subjects:

  • Carpatho-Russian cookbook
  • shellfish and religion
  • thyroid pomegranite
  • Benadryl tranquilize dogs
  • native american legal name changes 1800s
  • goiter chin
  • Ewok dog
  • pictures of the tails of rats
  • how to impress your parents

Thursday, August 03, 2006

In empathy

As I sit here working, fighter jets are screaming overhead. No, I'm not in a war zone - it is my city's annual summer "festival" which includes an "air show" of military jets. I live in the neighborhood where the jets fly closest to the ground.

I know that there are people who enjoy this form of entertainment - obviously, it draws the summer crowds like crazy - and while I do not judge it, I absolutely do not understand it. To me, this is the most viscerally unpleasant sound I have ever experienced. A bone-rattling roar that gets lounder and louder until you think it's not possible to crescendo any further, and then, at its peak, adds a screaming pitch like an enraged, vicious animal. Knowing that I am in no danger, it still activates adrenal fear responses - heartrate, respiration - and I can appreciate the role of these machines as agents of intimidation and fear as well as destruction in a real situation of war.

Which brings me back to the people around the world trapped with this sound for real, day in and day out, along with the bombing and explosions that come with it. Every year at this time, I wonder how people survive that experience with their minds unfractured by the strain.

On that note, and at the request of a reader for more information on a previous post, I pass along an update from a relief agency that we support that is providing aid to civilians trapped and displaced by the fighting in Lebanon (and also Gaza). Mercy Corps is a secular nonprofit based in Portland, Oregon that is familiar with Lebanon through its economic and civic development projects there, and is now one of the few organizations braving ravaged and dangerous roads to deliver food, water and sanitary supplies to southern Lebanon. Just as with Hurricane Katrina, many of the people left behind closest to danger were those with the least ability to evacuate: elderly, incapacitated, poor, without private transport, families with multiple small children and no way to move them. A million people are now estimated to be displaced in Lebanon.

Whatever your view on this war - and I know I have friends who disagree with mine - I hope we can all laud these efforts to deliver the most basic life-sustaining support to civilians caught in the horrific crossfire. I hope you will consider giving your support. (To see a video story following along with this Mercy Corps convoy, see this NY Times video story.)

* - * - * - * - * - *

Dear friend,

Two Mercy Corps truckloads of critical food supplies and blankets reached the beleaguered town of Marjayoun on Tuesday - one of the first organized relief convoys to reach this devastated part of southern Lebanon.

Because of the increasingly desperate situation there, we made the decision to go without waiting for a response for a guarantee of safety from Israel - something that has been holding back convoys from the UN and other colleague agencies.

We need your help to continue and expand these efforts. Support from our regular, dedicated donors like you enables us to be bold, creative and quick in our response.

The crisis in Lebanon is our No. 1 priority. I am currently in Lebanon lending support to our relief team, underscoring our commitment and trying to draw more attention to the immense humanitarian needs here.

If you haven't donated yet, please make a donation today. Every dollar you give can help us secure at least $7 of food, water, fuel and other critical supplies on the ground.

If you have already given, we THANK YOU on behalf of the people we've assisted so far. You can help us even more by forwarding this email to your friends and family.

Finally, I'm attaching an email that I received on Tuesday from our team on the ground. I'm immensely proud of their heroic efforts to help innocent civilians who are caught in the crossfire.

Please spread the word and give what you can today.

Thank you,

Neal Keny-Guyer
Mercy Corps

--- Original Message ---

From: David Holdridge
Subject: LRT Daily Brief
Date: 8/1/06
To: Neal Keny-Guyer

--Left Beirut early this morning, arriving Marjayoun at about 12:30... The mayor and vice mayor met the convoy in the central square and welcomed our team. (We actually helped rehabilitate the square, Soukh Marjayoun, last year as part of our tourism project.) We followed them to a school, where there were about 24 families (about 6-7 members per family) ... and then went to a second school, approx. 16 families. Distributed food and blankets both places.

--Back at the central depot, about 25 men helped offload the remaining food items and blankets... no food in the depot from anyone else, so it made a significant difference that we went.

--The trip was arduous. It took about 5 hours... normally 45 minutes. So many parts of the main roads aren't passable... it was difficult. At times we had to drive through olive groves and on dirt roads. One truck had 240 cartons (food for one family of ten for a week) ... heavy cartons. In the second truck there were about 50 bales of blankets (30 blankets per bale). We had a Lebanese police escort, and I was on the phone with the mayor in Marjayoun every 15-20 minutes as we approached.

--Our distributions in the Aley area southeast of Beirut still ongoing... 600 families Sunday, 600 families Monday. We have a warehouse up there now. Continue to deliver food parcels, blankets, mattresses, hygiene kits. Filling water tanks on top of schools, other buildings where displaced families are staying. Hope to reach 100,000 people in the Chouf.

--We're going to try to get down to Nabatiye with some food convoys in the coming days. Hard to find drivers who will go there because of the danger ... awful lot of fear about moving south. But we will persist.

Mercy Corps * 3015 SW 1st Ave., Dept. W * Portland, OR 97201

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Back from the chilly north

We visited the chain saw sculpture capital of the world, took a tram over the narrowest part of the Fraser River (which moves twice the water volume of Niagra Falls), hiked through abandoned railway tunnels, rode the cute little water taxis from the Vancouver train station to Granville Island, ate a lot of fish, and visited what must be Canada's only true cheesy beach town. It was great to see my aunt from Edmonton; she has the same lively laugh and mischievous sense of humor as always. She and my dad still trade the same morning greeting as they have since childhood (Awake, arise, or be forever fallen! from Milton's Paradise Lost - yes indeed, we are a peculiar family).

And now, back to life in progress.