Monday, May 25, 2009

50 Down, 50 More to Go

May 9 was the day of our annual canoe trip at the agency where I work. Volunteers from several different public and private agencies around town made it possible for us to provide an opportunity for our clients and their families to enjoy a 20-30 minute canoe ride followed by a picnic meal and fun in the water playground. With the help of beanbag chairs, wedge cushions, and improvised supports, our therapists are able to get our physically challenged clients seated in the canoes, and with the help of experienced canoeists and volunteer lifeguards, we are able to keep involuntary dunkings down to a minimum.

Since I have an assignment from my photographer acquaintance, I took advantage of the canoe trip to lie down on the dock to take pictures of the canoeists starting out and returning. I also took pictures while sitting on the dock and of course, while in a canoe. The picture above of volunteers helping a family into a canoe is one of the pictures I took, posterized with Photoshop so as to protect people's privacy.

The day after the canoe trip, there was an article in our local paper about the canoe trip, and one of our former clients was quoted as saying that whenever people told him he couldn’t do something, we were there to tell him that he could.

May 9 was also the day of the prayer vigil at St. Anonymous.

I've had a lot of time to reflect on the two events, one secular, one religious, in the weeks since. Two Bible verses keep coming to mind:
And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me'
Which of the two did the will of his father?

Update 9/16/2011: This year the center featured Erick, the client referred to in paragraph 3, in a video for their fundraiser breakfast. It can be seen here, along with footage from the most recent canoe trip.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Famous Last Words

One of the cliches that I find most often puzzles, amuses, and annoys me is the one that goes, nobody ever said on their deathbed, "I wish I'd spent more time at the office".

It puzzles me because I wonder how anyone would know that. 107 humans per minute die around the world. Who is keeping up with all their last words? Is there a Last Words Fairy I don't know about? Okay, my last words will probably be some variation of, "Help me!  I don't want to die", but I don't pretend to know a thing about what the rest of you are going to say.

It amuses me because I have no trouble whatsoever thinking up situations in which someone might very well have said "I wish I'd spent more time at the office" on his deathbed, or hers. Suppose for a minute Joe Philanderer, CEO of Widgets, LTD, gets a yen for his secretary and arranges to leave work early for a rendezvous at her home. Suppose the secretary's husband comes home early, catches the two of them, and shoots them.  Is it totally impossible that Joe Philanderer will expend  his last breath whining, "I wish I'd spent more time at the office"? Or what if he leaves early, gets on the subway, and becomes the victim of a poison gas attack?  I could spend all day coming up with scenarios in which time spent at the office could be a lifesaver.  I'm not saying they're likely, but - 107 people a minute.  That many people makes any unlikely scenario possible eventually. 

But mostly the saying annoys me because of what it says about how the speaker views work. Work to them is not producing a product or service that is going to make someone else's life better, happier, or even possible, it's just putting in time at an office. Producing porn magazines, writing textbooks, designing a more fuel efficient car, designing a scheme to defraud widows and orphans, curing cancer, giving subordinates ulcers - it's all the same thing.  

When you start to think of what people actually do in their worksites, you start to realize what these people are actually saying.  They're saying that no medical researcher ever wished on her deathbed that she had finally found a cure for cancer, no elementary school teacher ever wished he had taught just one more child to read, no ICU nurse had ever hoped to wave goodbye to one more recovered patient, no speech language pathologist ever wished she had taught one more child to say "mama" years after that child's mother had given up hope of hearing the word.  They're saying no auto worker ever wanted to make just one more car that would take some 18 year old to college and no seamstress ever wanted to make one more wedding dress or baptismal gown.  

I don't believe that.  I think our work is or can be our connection to a community that depends on us, our way of loving our neighbors the way we love ourselves.  I hope when I die I can look back on my work life, not as a distraction from the Really Important Things in life, but as a way of finding my self by losing it.

And I hope Joe Philanderer doesn't get shot by his secretary's husband, even if I never do buy any of his widgets.  I mean, he's a scuzzball, but, even so, he should spend more time at the office.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Native Art, a Sex Change, and the Vietnam Memorial Moving Wall

This afternoon my husband and I went downtown to the local art museum to see an exhibition of Inuit Art.  Since the art museum doesn't allow photography, I left my camera at home.

The art museum lies across the street from a historical building built, in Gothic Revival style, on a bluff.  As we walked up to the museum we could see a large truck parked opposite - the truck that carries the Moving Wall, which was set up on the grounds of the building, and perfectly positioned so that someone who actually had her camera with her could have grabbed the perfect shot of the replica wall with the building behind it.  Somebody who did not have her camera with her told herself what an idiot she was to leave it home.

The Inuit exhibit was worth the trip and the extremely low admission charge.  There were block prints, textiles, and carvings, with the carvings predominating.  My favorite was the dancing bear, depicted in the poster above, but a close second was a standing muskox, who was, as the placard said, "relieving himself".  A string of small pebbles attached to his butt made that quite clear.  It was priceless.

After the Inuit Exhibit we revisited the museum's permanent Egyptian exhibit, complete with mummy.  We'd seen the mummy three or four times before, and practically knew the description by heart: a young woman with curly hair, unusual for that time period.

So imagine my surprise to walk up to the mummy and read that it was a young man with curly hair.  Could I really have misremembered that badly?

As it turns out, I didn't misremember.  Two years ago, a CAT scan was done of the mummy and it was determined that she was in fact a he.  The cause of death appeared to have been due to crushing injuries to the chest.  You would think you could at least trust dead people not to make dramatic changes in their lives, but apparently not.

After the museum, we of course went to visit the Wall, and give a small donation.  We had been to see the real one in Washington, DC, but the traveling one is moving in its own way.  On our way past, I remembered the words from the Egyptian ceremony for the dead, "You will live againyou will live again forever! Beholdyou are young again forever!" 

 May it be true for them.

Friday, May 8, 2009

My Bucket List

What I want most to do before I die is visit all 50 states and all seven continents.  So far I have visited 6 continents and 39 states, so I have a good shot at getting to them all.  The states I haven't been to are Oregon, Utah, Minnesota, North Dakota,  South Dakota, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Delaware.  One summer I tried to interest my husband in a trip to Mount Rushmore followed by a drive to a resort on Lake Itasca, which would have taken in 3 states if we took an indirect route through  Bismarck, ND on our way to Minnesota.  Hubby talked me into a trip to Hungary instead.  I am easily seduced by thoughts of being serenaded by gypsies in a wine bar on the Street of Beautiful Women, and I don't think they have any of that in Minnesota.

 I'd like to visit the site of the Mountain Meadow Massacre in Utah, having already visited Berryville, Arkansas from whence the Fancher-Baker party set out.  I'd love to attend the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska.  New England of course would be perfect to visit in the fall, when the leaves change.  I'm just having a hard time with Delaware.  What exactly does one do in Delaware?  Or Wisconsin?

Oh, the continent I haven't visited yet?  It's Australia.  Maybe the world's geographers will wind up doing to Australia what astronomers did to Pluto and demote it to dwarf continent.  Then I could stay home and say I'd been to all 6 continents.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

30 Minute Meals that Only Take 45 Minutes Or So to Cook

I've become a big fan of the Food Channel.  My favorite is the Barefoot Contessa, followed by Giada at Home and Semi-Homemade. Occasionally I watch Rachel Ray and her 30 Minute Meals, which generally involve being able to compress ten minutes of pasta cooking into a two minute commercial break. I'm a girl at heart; I still love fairy tales.  

The other night I planned what should have been a quick fix meal, even bearing in mind that I do not have an army of assistants outside of camera range to do the shopping, organizing and some of the prep work.  The menu was simple:  Salmon with Lemon and Parmesan Crust (I cannot rave enough about this dish), leftover stir fried noodles and vegetables, and a salad of hearts of artichokes, hearts of palm and romaine hearts (a Rachel Ray dish) dressed with a lemon vinaigrette adapted from Ina Gartner's roasted artichoke salad.  So, mix up the salmon crust, mix up the dressing, reheat the vegetables and throw the salad together while the salmon bakes.  How hard could that be, as Ina would say?

One of the ingredients for the salmon is green onions.  I knew we had a bag of green onions in the crisper.  What I did not know is that they were starting to go bad, and that it would take almost ten minutes to peel and cut the not so nice parts from the still good parts to get enough to use.  Then there was the matter of the artichoke hearts for the salad.  Instead of hearts, I accidentally grabbed a can of artichoke bottoms.  I found a container for them and found the artichoke hearts, but that took more time.  Why is it that when Ina, Rachel, and Sandy are looking for canned goods, they are always right at the front of the pantry shelf, not buried behind an aging can of coconut milk? 

Then there was the vinaigrette.  It sounds so easy - throw a bunch of ingredients in a blender. How bad could that be?  Ina would have whipped hers up during the opening credits in between mixing scone batter.  It always takes me ten to fifteen minutes, mostly because I have to chase down the right size measuring spoons, and mince shallots.

It really only took about 45 minutes to whip up dinner.  Still not bad for a quick meal.  I even have a plan for the artichoke bottoms - Eggs Sardou.  Poach some eggs, cream some spinach, make a side dish of cheese grits.  How long could that take?

I figure a week.

Monday, May 4, 2009

One Down, 99 to Go

Yesterday I was given a homework assignment by a sort of mentor of mine to take 100 pictures of things that are not on a level between my eyes and my knees.  Above is the first picture of this series - a picture of the ceiling fan in the third bedroom taken while I was lying on the floor under it.  I also learned my first lesson - if you are going to photograph a ceiling fan, turn it off first.  Unfortunately, this bright idea did not occur to me until after I was on the floor.

The ceiling fan is part of a funny story.  My husband is a lovable, sweet person in many ways, but like anybody, he has a few flaws.  He is a talented man who can fix almost anything.  He can do electrical work, plumbing, rough carpentry, and painting as well as cooking, sewing, and cleaning.  So whenever we need anything done around the house, he will usually do it himself rather than hire someone to do it.

The problem is, a jack of all trades is, as we all know, a master of none, so while he almost always does a good job, he runs into snags along the way, and every time he runs into a snag, I hear the same thing.  "This was all your idea.  I never wanted to do this, but you just had to have your way."  Before the ceiling fan, the previous most inappropriate time he recited this litany was when he fell off a ladder onto the toilet while painting the bathroom and broke a chip out of the rim of the toilet tank.  From that moment on, the chipped tank has always been, in his mind, all my fault.  In my mind, it has always been a sign that my husband, while adorable, is pretty much as cracked as the tank, but I usually keep that opinion to myself.

Fast forward five years.  I have problems with the light in the third bedroom, which is where I keep my computer.  I suggest to husband that we hire an electrician to fix the wiring.  Husband says, no, the real problem is the ceiling fan (the light fixture being attached to the fan), and that he has always wanted a new one anyway.  We go to Lowe's, and he picks out the fan he wants, which is one I wouldn't have picked but can live with.

Okay, gentle reader, you know where this is going, don't you?  Sure enough, half an hour into the project I hear grumbling coming from the third bedroom.  Either the fan will run but the light won't work, or if he gets the light to work, the fan won't run.  I walk into the room just in time to hear, "This was all your idea.  I never wanted to do this, but you just had to have a new ceiling fan." 

I spoke in an amazingly quiet voice for someone on the verge of (justifiable) homicide.  I explained in the careful tones one uses with someone wearing a tinfoil hat that, no, in fact, I had not asked for a ceiling fan, I had asked that we call an electrician to deal with what was obviously faulty wiring, and that the fan was not only his idea, but his exact choice.  He had to admit that it was so.  Shamefaced, he returned to his task, and eventually got the fan working.

Poor baby.  Now every time he starts into his "This was all your idea" routine, all I have to do is say, "like the ceiling fan".  He really doesn't know what hit him, but the way I figure it, he's just fortunate it wasn't a hammer, wielded by me.

I love that little fan.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

I Have a Homework Assignment

Hubby and I went to a music festival today but left early because it was about to storm.  We did hear two bands and got to see the arts and crafts booths.  One of the booths belonged to a photographer from New Orleans named Joshua Lee.  He had a booth in the same spot last year and we had begun talking about photography.  He gave me a lot of encouragement despite the fact I didn't buy anything.

This year I looked to see him again and this time I bought a DVD called Katrina Revealed:Rebuilding Lives in the Big Uneasy.  We talked a little about my recent trip and how I took over 1200 pictures, and he gave me a homework assignment: take 100 pictures, but none of them can be between my knees and my eyes.  I need to be either down low or up on something when I take the pictures.  When I'm done, Josh wants me to email him and tell him what I learned.

When I left the booth I marveled that there are people like this in the world.  He's seen me twice in his life, he's never even looked at a photograph I've taken, and yet he was willing to offer help and encouragement not just to me, but to other people who stopped by his booth. Whenever I think about all the bad in the world I also try to remember all the Joshua Lees - the people who help other people just because that's what they do.  It's more than just their actions, it's the way they see the world.

And now I have to learn to see the world from a different perspective, as in the picture above, which I took while down on one creaky, arthritic knee.  Wish me luck, and learning.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

May Is Better Speech and Hearing Month

Or as ASHA puts it, Better Hearing and Speech Month, but this is my blog and I'll write it in the order I want.

The story of how I became a speech/language pathologist is a study in serendipity.  Back when I was 14 years old, I had a crush on a boy in my English class, although looking back on it I can't imagine why.  Anyway, my English teacher wanted us each to give a short speech on what we wanted to be when we grew up.  I borrowed the neighbors' encyclopedia, which had a section on Careers, and looked for something that would be suitably exotic to impress Crush Boy.  Somehow I settled on audiologist, and although nothing ever came of the crush, the career idea stuck.

When I got to college I discovered that even people who hear can have speech and language problems, and decided I was far more interested in speech pathology than audiology.  So here I am, 40 some odd years after our career day, teaching children how to roll their "r's" and put words together into sentences.  Whereas if I hadn't been trying to impress a classmate, I might have ended up in secretarial school.  

And then years later, when computers and word processing came along, I would have had to learn software, which might have led to my taking computer science classes, and I could have ended up making some real money.  But it doesn't do to be bitter.

Happy Better Speech and Hearing Month, everybody.

Why Do People Do This?

Last weekend we attended the 23rd annual Festival International de Louisiane in Lafayette, Louisiana. The festival is a music festival with bands from around the world, primarily the French speaking world, and also has open air markets selling crafts both local and international, and of course, food and beverage booths. We love it because it's free and fun.

I took this picture at the festival. There doesn't seem to be any venue where people gather for innocent fun where I don't see a sign like this. I'm not sure what God was supposed to have been offended by. Music? Dancing? Cajun food? Coke products? Maybe the Budweiser products?

Our city's fireworks display seems to be a popular target for these kind of signs, too. That one really puzzles me. God hates fireworks? John Phillips Sousa marches?

Don't tell me that the people carrying these signs are just taking advantage of large gatherings to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. I've seen these people in action. They aren't carrying signs that say John 3:16 or "Come unto me all ye who are weary or heavy laden and I will give you rest". There are plenty of other religious groups to be seen at these festivals. They sing as gospel choirs. They host food or craft booths to raise some money for their churches or other causes. They act like people you might actually want to spend an hour or so with, let alone all eternity.

But the sign bearers? They remind me of an observation by Bonaro Overstreet in her article The Unloving Personality and the Religion of Love, in which she describes persons who
conceal their unlovingness from themselves and rarely suspect that what motivates their daily actions is by no means an outgoing love but rather a consuming desire to take in from their world - to take in love, comfort, approval, protection, reassurance, adulation.
She goes on to say that such persons must subtly convert the religion of love into a religion of hate.

I think the only thing she was wrong about is the subtle part.

Friday, May 1, 2009

We're Building God A Parking Lot. I Hope he Likes It.

I was brought up as a Methodist.  For the past 25 years, I've been attending the same Methodist Church a few miles from my house.  My husband and I were married there, and although he was brought up as a Catholic, he began attending with me when we were engaged.  As members go, we haven't been the most active and we haven't been the least active.  We used to belong to a Sunday School class until most of the members moved on to other places.  I belong to UMW.  We don't tithe, but we do pledge every year and give what we pledge plus extra at Christmas.  I give about 3.5% of my gross income to the church and 10% of my take home pay to various charities, church included.  From what I have read, that's pretty much in line with what the average Methodist gives.

My church, let's call it St. Anonymous, has recently embarked on a fund drive for some new building projects, specifically a new parking lot, new covered drop-off, expansion of the education building, and some remodeling of the sanctuary.  My husband and I voted against undertaking the project at this time in light of the current economic situation.  We were in a decided minority, but we weren't the only ones.

Part of the project involved hiring a consultant to help with the fundraising.  Hubby and I expected a hard sell, and we weren't disappointed.  As a result, I found myself up late one night writing the following musings.  Since I'm not likely to send it to my pastor (whom I actually like and respect, even when we disagree), I decided to post it here where no one will ever read it anyway:

Why I Am Not Giving to the Building Program

1)  I want my charitable donations to serve God.  

God wants us to feed the hungry, clothe the ill-clad, tend the sick, and let those whose actions have placed them outside of human society know there is always hope for redemption.  There are many organizations in this community that do that, and every dollar that I could give to St. Anonymous to pave the parking lot I can give to them instead.  On the other hand,  God made his opinion of building projects known in that little episode of the Tower of Babel.  

2) There’s a recession on.

That means that all our community organizations that  feed the hungry, clothe the ill-clad, tend the sick, visit the prisoner, help victims of domestic violence, supplement utility payments for the elderly, and fund the organizations that do are fighting harder to keep what funding they have. My husband and I have increased what we give to some of these organzations by 50% to help meet that need, despite our concerns about our shrinking retirement fund just as retirement grows near.  

3)  Giving to the building program is not really giving.  It’s paying for creature comforts for ourselves. 

The only one of these improvements that is by any stretch of the imagination necessary is expanding the Education Building.  The rest of them are luxuries.  None of these improvements is anything different from what a country club or health club might try to provide for its members, but the country club or health club isn’t going to suggest that giving to their building project is the same thing as giving to God, or that there is some magic proportion of my income that God wants me to give for a new lobby.  Yes it would be nice to have a covered drop off, but it’s nice in the same way it would be nice to have a new purse. Either way, it’s money spent on myself.  

4)  We’re having a day of prayer and what for?

I don’t recall us ever having a day of prayer to end world hunger or to cure AIDS in Africa or for world peace, but we’re having one so we can have new chairs in the sanctuary.  I’d be embarrassed to pray about that.  Seriously.

5)  Whenever “sacrificial giving” is mentioned, it’s always with respect to giving to St. Anonymous, not on behalf of the  special collections that actually go to missions of the United Methodist Church or to community organizations.

We have “Change to Make a Change” Sundays, which suggests that whatever dimes, quarters, or small bills we have in our pockets is plenty enough to give to community organizations.  We’re told that we don’t even have to give to the 6 or so special UMC collections we have during the year, and no one is ever invited to speak on behalf of those missions to tell us what they are and what they do.  Those are the programs that provide services directly to people in some kind of need.  Those are the programs that serve God.  

6) Stewardship?  Oh, yes, let’s talk about stewardship.

 Stewardship is the wise use of resources to serve God.  Stewardship is not trying to divert money that is needed to feed the hungry and otherwise care for the unfortunate into a building program. Stewardship is not mistaking a church building for God himself.  Stewardship is not pampering ourselves and pretending it’s what God wants.  Stewardship is not just giving money to a church; it’s making sure that money is prayerfully and wisely spent on behalf of the greater good.  And stewardship is the reason I’m not giving one dime to this building program.  

More and more it occurs to me that if I just stop attending church, I’d have more money to give to the people and organizations, secular as well as religious, that really do God’s work in the world.

I Don't Really Need a Blog, So Why Do I Have One?

About a month ago I found an interesting blog that I wanted to comment on.  In order to do that, unless I wanted to comment as "anonymous" along with the 26 other souls posting as "anonymous", I needed an account of some kind.  Since I actually have a gmail account, I decided to use it for posting comments, at which point I discovered that I now also have the ability to post a blog.

I would have left it at that, that I have the ability, but not the necessity, to post a blog, except that it occurred to me that since no one would actually read a blog that I wrote, it would be the perfect place for posting all those musings that have no other outlet.  Accounts of my day that I would share with my husband if I could ever get a word in edgewise. My views on the latest building project at church.  Plans to murder people who take my parking space.  That sort of thing.

I was almost stopped cold at the necessity of naming my blog.  "Blatherings" is already in use on more than one blog.  So are "Random Noise" and a few other choices.  "Word Salad", however, appeared to be free.  It's also appropriate for two reasons: my profession (more about which eventually) and my posting nickname, Coleslaw.  So Word Salad it is.