Friday, January 29, 2010

Autism

Two months before we gave birth to our daughter, a close friend of ours gave birth to a baby boy. It was fun to see our children grow up together and compare notes. However, somewhere along the way, we saw things that led us to suspect that something was wrong. More specifically, we thought that their son showed signs of autism.

Autism is something that scares the heck out of me. It is now one of the most common of diseases with something like one in 50+ kids being born with it according to some of the latest polls. Even scarier, we have no way of predicting it or even knowing what causes it. The good news is that when caught early, and thanks to better detection processes, it can be treated somewhat effectively minimizing any long term effects.

Our friend's son has been getting intensive therapy this past year and a few days ago on a visit, he showed tremendous improvement in his social skills. Six months ago, he would focus on a toy and no amount of calling his name or trying to get him to focus on other things would shift his attention. This time however he actually played a bit with our daughter. His speech, though still terrible compared to peers, including our daughter, can actually be understood now when listening carefully. It was very nice to see these improvement and yet still humbling when comparing some of his other skills with our daughter.

One of the common signs of autism is hyperlexia or a extreme fascination with letters and numbers. This boy is only three and a half years old and yet he already knows how to add, subtract, divide and even multiply and not just verbally but can write it down on paper. To test his ability, his mom wrote 9x9= on a piece of paper and within seconds he had written down 81 right beside it. He also can spell complex words like mosquito or just about anything else you can throw at him. Amazing that he can do tasks that some 9 and 10 years olds can't and yet when it comes time to leave, he was hysterical because he had to leave the number 14 behind because it belonged to my daughter. His parents were embarrassed at the outburst and of course we tried to reassure them that they shouldn't be. We understood.

So why things like world peace, prosperity, etc. are being wished upon for this coming year, I myself will be praying for a cure to autism.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Desert Rat: Reporting From Hawaii


I'm a desert rat and thus like the heat but Arizona was forecasted to have a snowstorm of epic proportions so I headed west to Hawaii for some rest and relaxation. Instead, I found out that amidst the worst economic crisis in decades, the Republicans have invaded the island (on human taxpayer dime) for their annual winter meeting. Looks like there will be no rest for the weary.

First and foremost on their agenda the Republican party wants to do a little cleansing within their ranks to rid themselves of those pesky moderate Republicans by denying them funding unless they subscribe to eight of ten key conservative issues in the so called purity resolution. I think we should support them just so we can see how quickly a political party can self-destruct. The Republicans decided to hedge their bets by introducing another resolution called the accountability resolution which does the same thing except puts the power solely within the discretion of the party chairman. If I had to choose between the two, I would want this latter one in hopes that moderate republicans would someday be more than half of the party and thus have the possibility of a moderate Republican chairman denying funds to those Republicans who are neoconservatives. Wouldn't that be a kick in the pants?

The second order of business was to come up with a wittier phrase than "You lie" to use during the State of the Union address. Evidently a new poll showed all politicians lie so the fact that a president might lie is no surprise to anyone, much less the liar shouting, "you lie." Word has it that Joe Wilson from South Carolina will be shouting, "You spend." I'm not sure that is much of a surprise either.

Obama announced a pay freeze on all non-security discretionary spending which is currently only 1/8th of our annual budget and what likely voters have deemed a, "drop in the bucket." To reassure us that isn't the case, Obama has pledged to increase spending for education, high speed rails and hand out tax credits all around.

Massachusetts’s voters finally proved that doing nothing towards campaigning will not win an election. Republican Scott Brown handedly won the election after the gas peddle of his Toyota Tundra became stuck forcing him to rapidly circumnavigate the entire state right before election day. The stuck gas peddle will create at least 15 more jobs at Toyota which garnered him a few more votes than one might expect. Liberal auto giant manufacturer Toyota has now vowed to shut down its plants until after the 2010 election season is over.

Finally upstanding citizen James O'Keefe who showed us what goes on in the upstanding organization known as ACORN/Squirrel Nut, turned out to be not so upstanding. Evidently he was caught trying to illegally wiretap phones. Let me see if I have this straight. A sleezeball who got the goods on a sleezeball turns out to be a sleezeball. Who'd of thunk it?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

An Example of Our Town Cult

Stuck on my door was a yellow slip saying that I had a package at the post office that I need to sign for. I wasn't expecting a package and standing in line at the post office full of the local cult mailing off their various money making schemes boxed up in cardboard wasn't terribly appealing but the thought that something important enough that it needed my signature persuaded me to brave the line. A half hour later, I reached the front and handed the notification to the postmaster who wandered off to the back to find it. When he came back, I saw in big letters stamped across the front of the envelope, "The City of Maharishiville." Uh-oh, that can never be good. I almost didn't sign for it but against my better judgment, I did.

It turned out to be a letter from the Board of Adjustment of Maharishiville was holding a special session about a neighbor who was violating a zoning law banning the building of two unattached dwellings on a lot zoned for only one dwelling. After several weeks of forgetting about it and the time of the meeting rapidly approaching, I called during my lunch break to the town code enforcement officer, husband of a coworker, and asked for the scoop. My neighbor had evidently been illegally renting her garage for eight years and due to complaints by another neighbor, it had come to the attention of the Board of Adjustment. The meeting that night would decide whether a variance to the zoning law would be given to the lady.

Now let me clarify a point here. Although I am a neighbor as far as the law is concerned, i.e. my property is within 200 feet of her property line, my property does not border hers. In fact, I am a good 160 feet away from her property at the closest point of my property. This neighbor lives at the end of a street that dead ends and there is actually two blocks between me and the street she lives on. I didn't know her or the neighbors that brought the complaint. In fact, I can only just barely see her house through the trees in the winter when the leaves were off.

When the meeting started, it was just myself and one other lady who introduced herself as a representative of the neighbors who made the complaints and she stated that she wasn't there to debate anything, only to relay any questions the board might have to the neighbors who couldn't make the meeting. But within minutes, the lady with the property in violation of the ordinance came waltzing in and immediately I knew she was a Maharishi by her dress and demeanor. I knew that this meeting was going to be an interesting one. Ten minutes after her, another man came in whom Miss Guru identified as her janitor for hire who obviously had just got off the boat from deep in the outback of Australia by the sound of his voice. The meeting kicked off.

Miss Guru stated that she had bought the property after the previous garage had burnt down and decided to build a new one. She went to city hall and filled out a permit for a two-stall garage with a "loft" which was granted. I emphasis the word loft because in my eyes and the eyes of the city, that means another floor for perhaps a workshop or a studio or yoga room or something other than an apartment. She told the board that she had specifically mentioned the word apartment though she wrote loft in the space provided. The board told her that had she written apartment and meant apartment, the permit would never have been granted. Further more, the board said that the very guy who gave her the permit also sent her a letter a year later stating that she had used her permit unlawfully and she was in violation of the town ordinance.

Miss Guru tried to counter saying that the permit hadn't been seen by that guy but the board pointed out his signature was right below hers on the permit and dated the same day. She then went on to say that the town ordinance had been looser back then only to have the board say it has been unchanged on the books since 1986 a full dozen years before she bought the property. She then said that she had never received the letter because she had been sick the entire year and do to insurance had been overseas for treatment so she was guilty of not knowing about the letter. Though she had to sign for it, the board told her that her illness was still not an excuse.

The board started reviewing the case a bit more and I learned some interesting information. Evidently their had been several complaints over the years. One renter had opened an acupuncture shop in the garage and due to the limited parking, customers had been blocking the alley preventing other neighbors from getting to or leaving their homes. Other renters had held noisy parties drawing complaint. The most recent complaint that thus brought about this meeting was that the garage with an apartment on top had its sewage plumbed into the house sewage which then plumbed into the neighbors sewage before going into the city sewage. Evidently a blockage had occurred flooding the neighbor’s property or house, I never learned which. Mr. Crocodile Dundee the janitor stated that he met with Roto Rooter and they said that nothing Miss Guru had done had caused the flooding problems but of course they had no documentation to prove it.

Miss Guru finally sensed that the tide was going the other way and started stating that she had a very large lot that could accommodate three or four cars at the house and at the garage. But several board members said they had driven out there before the meeting and saw only one space in front of the garage before blocking of the alley and that you had to go through that space to reach the spaces by the house that might hold two cars close together. She then stated that other houses across town rented out garage lofts and that the convalescent home across the street held multiple buildings. The board of course pointed out that the other houses could be zoned differently not to mention that just because someone else is doing something illegally doesn't make it right for all. As for the convalescent home, it was actually a hospital and had been there well before 1986 and thus does not count not to mention it was four blocks away and not across the street as she had stated. She replied that it was only a three-minute walk and that several people made it daily as to make the case that it was across the street. She stated that if the variance wasn't granted that the building was going to go vacant and just rot to the ground. Finally she stated that she had a large lot and that neither building was infringing upon the neighbors, which the board pointed out, was not the case since they had in their hands several complaints from the neighbors.

The board went on to ask her if she had the property inspected and she asked them for what reason. Answering a question with a question is always a sign that you either don't know the answer or don't want to say it. The board told her that every rental property in the city limits had to be registered and inspected once every four years. I could tell this was a loaded question but she pounced and said she had her buildings inspected. At that point one of the board members informer her that he was the inspector and had never been out to her property nor was it registered in their records. She said well someone drove by it and she had thought it was the inspector.

I was pretty confident at this point that the variance was going to be denied but a board member, also one of the cult on the north side of town, started saying that he was leaning towards granting the variance because it was clear to him that she had made an honest mistake. I was incredulous at this since it had been clearly obvious that she had been trying to mislead the board the entire meeting so far only to be repeatedly caught and forced to backtrack. So when they asked if there was any discussion from the room and all looked at me, the sole non-involved party in attendance, I decided to say what was on my mind.

I told the board that I didn't know Miss Guru or her neighbors, didn't live on the same street and wasn't affected by all the actions that caused the complaints. I was however concerned with the precedent they would be setting if they allowed the variance since that left any of my neighbors able to 'accidentally' build an apartment on their property claiming ignorance to the law and if that were to occur, I would have a problem with that since I bought my house in that area specifically for it being a quiet single dwelling zoned area. (I passed up on a property before hand simply because it was by an apartment building and behind a senior citizen center.) With that I sat down and ignored the stares from Miss Guru and Crocodile Dundee.

The board voted and denied her request for a variance. This obviously didn't please Miss Guru who then said she was now forced to sell the property to a family who would most likely have lots of children since it wasn't illegal and they would soon have six cars sitting out front. She turned to look at me and the lady representing the neighbors and said she hoped we were happy about that. I just smiled back at her. She ranted for a while about the unfairness of it all and at which point myself and the other lady grew tired of it and quietly slipped out the door.

I have lived around the meditators/cult/gurus here in town most of my life. I have several among them who I consider good friends. However, it just seems that there is a disproportionate number among them who are actually like Miss Guru in this blog. They are constantly trying to stretch truths to get their way and occasionally it works. The built a big huge civic center in our town with the promise that it would be paid for and run entirely with private money and would bring lots of money to our poor rural county. After they got the go ahead and got to the point of no return, they then weaseled the city into giving them a lot of money to complete the construction saying that it would pay them back rich dividends when built. It has been open a year and still isn't solvent and is at the verge of bankruptcy. They are now asking that the city and county buy the building and run it from now on so the fight is on, full of stretched truths and flat out lies just like Miss Guru. Sadly, they are a stereotypical cult.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Little Abbey: Short

"Daddy...here!" came the call from the back seat of the car as we were driving home one evening. So out of instinct, I reached out behind me while keeping my eyes on the road to take the remaining piece of cheese stick that she had been eating. I felt her finger touch my finger and although I couldn't feel anything, I clutched at what was in my hand so that it wouldn't fall onto the floor as I brought my arm back up from. Before I could open my hand to see what was inside it, Little Abbey said, "I had a little booger."

The joys of parenthood.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Dodging a Bullet the Size of a Ford Pinto

I only included this blurry picture because literally two seconds after I took it, the entire left half of the tree was smashing the fence behind the garage.

Large amounts of snow, large amounts of cold, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised when we received a large amount of ice the past couple days. We have a half an inch on the trees and the only thing that kept this just a day to stay home from work versus a disaster of apocalyptic proportions was probably only a degree or two Fahrenheit and a missed forecast of wind.

It has been raining or drizzling here for the better part of a couple days, sometimes coming down in buckets. While the trees and cold vehicles accumulated ice, the roads stayed just wet enough that with the storm drains still plugged with snow resembling a giant slushy covering the road several inches deep. The result is somewhat slippery but nowhere as slick as it would have been with a solid sheet of ice. The 40 mph gusts of wind forecasted that surely would have reduced all trees to piles of splinters never came and Wednesday evening as the temps fell below freezing, the wind speed here in town was a big fat zero.

The result was that I still had power yesterday morning and other than a flicker or two the night before, never lost power. My neighbors weren't as fortunate due to a tree that interrupted a line behind my house but they had it back within a few short hours. I took the opportunity to mosey on over to the crew in my neighbors yard and tell them they had my permission to cut down a small tree that the previous owners had planted in a bad location right underneath the power lines and a transformer and really too close to my large silver maple so that it was mostly a spindly creature. I even suggested that if they cut it up into manageable chunks since I didn't own a chainsaw, I would be ever grateful. Though they said they weren't supposed too, I snuck a few peeks out of my window later and saw them bucking the downed tree up into smaller chunks. Even better, it is all over my neighbors yard but being the good neighbor I am, I will dutifully pick it up and haul it to the curb before the allotted pickup time that will surely be announced in today's or tomorrow's paper.

I did get the day off so to speak since Mrs. Z's house who provided daycare for Little Abbey had no electricity for a few hours this morning. I called my backup but she hadn't gone to work the day before because of the falling ice so she had to work yesterday. I still thought I might get a couple hours in while Little Abbey was at preschool which I assumed would be in session since the regular grade school was but I was thwarted there too. The electricity had been out at the preschool and the teacher couldn't get out of her driveway. So Little Abbey and I headed over to the local Mickey D's and I read a book for several hours while Little Abbey ran herself exhausted climbing through the play land with another girl her age. For the first time, Little Abbey climbed the tower with confidence though she still refuses to go through the missing sections of tube that have been replaced with webbing that allows the person to see the floor. Still in a first, she slid down the twisty tube slide right before we headed home for naps all around. Something about sliding into a tube where you can't see the end was a little scary to her and frankly, I don't blame her.

So with power restored throughout town, no wind in the forecast but higher temperatures arriving shortly, I suspect we came through this storm very lucky. A quarter of an inch of ice and some winds have been known to knock out power around here for a couple weeks in places and we had twice that much with the potential for probably ten times more that just fell down as rain. And this is just mid January when the normal heavy precipitation during winter is just starting. I can't wait to see what is in store for us.


Heading to work this morning

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A 'Do' to End All 'Dos'


Although this incident took place in a church, it could and has happened before where people are seated one in front of the other. This guy walked in and sat right in front of us giving me a full hour to meditate on God and his hair. Most Sundays God easily wins out but this Sunday even he had stiff competition.

Let me see if I can do this justice with my description. This guy parted his hair just above one ear and then looped the hair over and back creating this gigantic swirl to cover a very obviously bald head with more than 50% of all hair now gone. So he ended up with hair that swirled around in a circle and only accentuated the three inch circle of bare scalp that shone like a beacon to those behind him.

All I could think of was WHY? Did he actually believe he was fooling someone by this horrendous comb over? Did he think that it was more attractive to have a horrendous hairdo than to just show his bald spot? If I hadn't been in church and praying for my soul, I might have prayed for a pocket sized air compressor to give him a squirt. I imagine that just one squirt to flop his hair back over would give the same look as having just scalped him only without any blood.

I am reminded of a former co-worker named Wally who had short hair on the sides and a comb over of a mostly bald head. Once I had the misfortune to see him walking across the parking lot on a windy day with the wind direction in the opposite direction of the comb over. What he ended up with was short hair along the sides, a bald top and a foot of fair standing nearly straight up where most people normally would put their part. It was the longest walk of my life with Wally trying so hard to keep from busting my gut with laughter.

So as I started looking around, I counted that nearly fifty percent of the men retirement age or perhaps slightly younger had obvious comb overs. I'm guessing that decreasing vision as one ages allows these people to engage in these fantasies that they still have hair. But they certainly aren't fooling anyone but themselves.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Speaking of the Devil

Arie den Boer Aboreteum - Creature in the Night

In my last blog post, you may recall that I told you about our method for controlling the temperature in our apartment by keeping the windows open and adjusting the fan speed according to the temperature outside. This system worked well even when the temperatures were more than twenty below zero this past month. If you recall, I even pondered if the landlord even reads his heat bill, sees the all the windows open in the building on the coldest day of the year and puts two and two together. Well in short, he must have.

This past weekend, my wife was on call and so I drove up to the urban jungle with Little Abbey to spend the evenings with her. When I arrived on Friday evening, I opened the door and was assaulted with a blast of heat and a kiss. The latter one is a good kind of assault and I suppose I had gotten used to the former with time. However, my wife soon mentioned that the heat wasn't working so she had closed the windows to conserve heat. Sure enough as the evening passed, I watched as our thermostat thermometer, which up to this point had been all that it was good for, passed from ninety degrees down to a cool seventy-six degrees. I normally have our house set for sixty-eight degrees but when you are used to ninety, even seventy-six seems almost chilly.

Though no heat was being produced, our water heat pipes were making a large banging noise about every ten minutes or so and it put me in a nostalgic mood of sorts of some of the many apartments I have had in the past that had made similar noises, especially on the upper floors, as lower floors had their heat kick on and off creating a kind of water hammer effect. After a few minutes of thinking about this, it finally hit me that the heat may be working and what I am hearing is exactly that effect. I walked over to the thermostat and looked to see that it was set exactly where I had left it back when we first discovered that we had no control of the heat, at fifty degrees, the lowest setting. So I turned the dial up past seventy degrees and as soon as it hit seventy-six degrees, the current indoor temperature, I heard a distinct click. I walked over to the registers and put my hand on the pipes. Within seconds I started to feel the heat encompassing the cold pipes. We had heat and more importantly, we now have control of said heat.

So for the first weekend in a long time, I was able to sleep in a room that was a pleasant temperature, I couldn't hear the dogs, sirens or helicopters landing on the roof of the nearby hospital and most of all, I could breath my stale recycled air over and over if I wanted too. Perhaps a little carbon dioxide would help me sleep a little better as I was probably not used to falling asleep with so much fresh air around. Now if I can find a muffler for the air conditioner before summer...

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Heat Is On

As far as apartments go and I've experienced many of them in my lifetime, the one we rent in the urban jungle isn't too bad. It has an excellent location with a nice view of the valley and city below, it is close to some excellent eating establishments and a dozen or so blocks from downtown. We opted to get our apartment on the third and uppermost floor on the corner of the building and thus really have only one neighbor, another doctor in residency that works with my wife. He too is married and his spouse and he commute about two hours between homes, just like us. Thus he is not there too often and when he is, we haven't heard him. The apartment building was completely rebuilt from the inside out before we moved in and so we are essentially the first tenants and have all new paint, carpeting, appliances, etc. The rent is affordable and the management, though slow to respond, seems to be nice. It seems ideal other than it is an urban jungle and our hearts are back in rural Iowa.

There are two drawbacks to this apartment. The first we discovered this summer in the form of the air conditioner. It is just a window model set in a hole in the wall between the two living room windows. It has a thermostat so you can set it to maintain a certain temperature and it does that well. However, when it runs, it sounds what I would imagine a 747 preparing for take-off with the back of the engines mounted inside your living room. When the air conditioner runs, conversation is out. Even the television must be turned up full blast to hear anything. Then when the air conditioner shuts off, you are immediately blasted by the noise of the television and must turn it down to avoid injury. So in essence, you must sit there with one hand on the remote changing the volume approximately every three minutes. I would rather have the temperature vary five degrees instead of the one degree the thermostat seems to maintain to give slightly more time between volume changes but that option is not available. So in the interest of maintaining sanity, we spent quite a bit of our time with fans in the window sweating constantly and dreaming of winter when we could use the building boiler heat which would make no noise.

On the first cold snap of the year, we turned the wall thermostat on and waited for the silent heat to warm our bones. We waited and waited and waited. Four days later with the temperature in our apartment hovering just south of fifty degrees, I went home and my wife camped out for the night in front of the electric oven. Finally a week later, the apartment management had the boiler heater delivered and installed, a miscalculation on their part and we finally had heat. It took us about a few hours to realize to our horror, that the wall mounted thermostat had absolutely no function other than to provide a hand hold for taking off your shoes. The apartment is apparently all hooked together and the apartment owner can't control the heat at all. This in itself wouldn't be so bad if the ambient heated temperature were say seventy degrees plus or minus five degrees either way. However, it seems as if the steady state temperature is about ninety-five degrees or their abouts. I don't know for sure because we took to controlling our temperature by opening up the windows and even putting fans in the window. Let me give you an example. A couple weeks ago when the temperature outside got down to nearly twenty below zero at night, we had a living room window open all night with a small fan in it blowing cold air in at medium speed. We slept comfortable all night and in the morning, the living room had a slight chill that was evenly solved by putting on a pair of socks though I was still comfortable in a t-shirt and shorts. And thus we are passing our winter quite comfortably with our windows open 24 hours a day. Kind of odd but having the fresh air always available makes it kind of nice. Fortunately the heat is boiler heat and we don't have to pay for it other than through our monthly rent. I wonder if the management will finally get the hint when they see their heating bill and all the windows are open in the apartment building all winter long. It is getting close to February and they haven't yet so I'm not going to bet on it.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Fatu-Hiva: A Book Review

Fatu-Hiva: Back to Nature
by Thor Heyerdahl
(no book jacket picture because I wasn't able to find one)

I first read Thor Heyerdahl's masterpiece, Kon-Tiki as a teenage from my father's collection and have re-read it numerous times over the years and even picked up a copy for my own collection. In Kon-Tiki, Thor and five other people build a raft out of reeds and drifted west to prove his theory that the Marquesas Islands and Easter Island were originally settled by South American pre-Inca people and not from Asia as was the popular belief. I guess due to my young age, I accepted his writings and didn't question that perhaps he might have written other books. That changed when one day while perusing a box of books at a garage sale, I found and picked a copy of his book Fatu-Hiva for a mere $0.10.

Fatu-Hiva turned out to be a book of Thor's youth when he decided to give up on man and go back to nature by finding a remote tropical island in the 1930's with food and water readily available but no residents. After studying numerous maps and ruling out every single island in the South Pacific, the loosened their restriction of no residents and settle on the island of Fatu-Hiva in the Marquesas Island group. Thor and his recently met and wedded bride Liv, waded ashore with the clothes on their back and another set in a suitcase but no other food or provisions. Immediately they were taken aback by the diseases that ran rampant in the village with elephantiasis being one of the most worrisome ones. They decided to build their paradise up the valley from the village and soon the locals had built them a house. Fruit was every where and they proceeded to live out their dreams.

Funny how reality has a way of sneaking back when you don't expect it. The native house that the natives had built for a "small fee" of some of their possessions, turned out to be deliberately build of green material that bugs would soon reduce to dust so that they would need to be hired again to rebuild it instead of the traditional seasoned wood that bugs wouldn't attack. But before their house fell apart, they battled mosquitoes and finally relented buying man made netting, escaped to the mountains for a while to escape angry converted Catholic natives who thought they might be working for the local Protestant missionary, ran out of food during the rainy season and eventually retreated back to a civilized island when they both got infections in their legs that required medicine to save them. The latter event required a journey via an abandoned canoe in the middle of storm that very nearly cost them their lives.

With healed legs and a renewed sense of purpose, they went back to Fatu-Hiva determined to escape their hut near the village (which had been destroyed by insects anyway) and move to a deserted corner of the island inhabited by the last surviving though no longer practicing cannibal and his adopted daughter. There they again attempted to find paradise and did for a short while but even that too didn't last long. Villagers from the other sign soon followed them seeking out money and imported food that they had bought while their legs were healing in order to give as gifts. Soon the villagers had exhausted the food supply, were engaging in nightly orgies under the influence of alcohol brewed from oranges and things started to get dangerous. Thor and Liv once again escaped in the dead of the night to restart again. However during this final attempt, they realized that paradise as they envisioned it no longer existed and that their dream of going back totally native would never happen. They hunkered down in a cave in an uninhabited part of the island and waited until the first schooner stopped by to pick up a cargo of copra from the natives and hitched a ride back to civilization ending their experiment less than a year after they started.

Although not the masterpiece of Kon-Tiki, it was definitely a good read. It would have been better had Thor not devoted so much paper to rehashing his theory of Polynesia being settled by people from South America over and over. It seemed as if every chapter had at least a half dozen pages repeating his thoughts on this subject to the point where I was tempted to start skipping over them. It did get me curious enough to look up Thor on Wikipedia where according to the write-up, his theory has been shone to be false due to modern genetic mapping techniques. That was a little disappointing especially after having read and believed Kon-Tiki for so many years. Also disappointing but not surprising was that Liv and Thor ended up getting divorced and Thor was on his third wife when he died in 2002. Regardless, it has always been a dream of mine to visit the Kon-Tiki museum in Thor's native Norway someday before I die and despite this information, I still plan to do so.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Toilet Paper Lightbulb and Something About Socks and Crayons

Our daughter has discovered a joy of singing and spends much of her day singing various songs. She loves to sing "The Wheels on the Bus", "London Bridge", a Filipino song about a hungry spider, a song from the Little Mermaid, another one from Annie and literally several dozen more. However several weeks ago she started singing one that I could not identify.

It sounded like, "toilet paper light bulb (pause) socks for (something I couldn't understand)crayons." Those were the only words and they were just repeated over and over. When I first noticed, I asked her what she was singing and of course she immediately stopped and refused to sing it again. However when I caught her singing it again a few days later, I played my cards right and began singing with her only pausing during the words I couldn't understand to listen for their meaning. The only thing I could come up with was socks for washing crayons but that didn't make a lot of sense.

Perhaps a couple weeks went by before I thought to ask Mrs. Z from daycare assuming that she learned the song from there but Mrs. Z had absolutely no idea what I was talking about. Her only guess was that she had learned it from K who is a four year old girl there and Little Abbey's best friend.

Time would pass and I had made a mental note that I would ask the teachers from Little Abbey's preschool if I remembered because that was the last place I could think of where she might have learned a new song. But as it turned out, I never had to go that far. One evening between Christmas and the New Year in are apartment in the Urban Jungle, Little Abbey was watching Caillou on the iPod while we both were reading. That is when we faintly heard the song lyrics, "Toilet paper, light bulb..."

The sound was turned to low to understand the rest of the part, the part I couldn't understand so we both leaned over Little Abbey trying to get her to replay the song. Mrs. Abbey tried to find it for five minutes or so but eventually gave up. We at least had the answer of where she learned it and now new it was just a matter of time when we would hear it again and figure the words out. That is when it finally hit me that perhaps I had enough information to Google it.

I typed in toilet paper light bulb and had thousands of hits but none that seemed like the lyrics for the song. So I next added the word Caillou to the search string and the number one result was a video clip entitled, "Toilet paper, light bulb, socks for Rosie, crayons." The clip was of a little girl but in the background Caillou was playing and singing those very words. Perhaps a minute later after we had our answer, Little Abbey had found the clip again and after calling us over, replayed it for us. As it turned out, the clip was about remembering a list of things by making a song about them, a technique I have used in the past to remember such things as the 50 states in order of joining the union, the presidents, the boyscout motto, the order of the planets, etc. They learn young!

Friday, January 8, 2010

I Had the "Crap Card" Played On Me

Tree with Perfect Pitch - Arie den Boer Aboreteum

I consider myself a pretty healthy person. I don't eat a red meat with every meal or even every day. I eat my share of fruits and vegetables though not probably what they (the government) recommends but really, who trusts the government. But when my mom had a heart attack last summer, I thought I probably should at least get a physical to see how things are doing. I probably haven't had a physical since my high school sports days so I thought I was probably due. I am past my mid 30's edging closer to 40 when all sorts of things are supposed to be scheduled on a regular basis. So over my end of the year vacation time, I bit the bullet and made an appointment.

I gave blood, I gave urine but fortunately avoided any rubber gloved or sanitized cameras going into normally outgoing opening tests that I thought were probably imminent. I found out that my cholesterol is normal (that was my main concern), my blood is normal, my liver is strong as an ox (I didn't destroy too much in college in other words), and I'm pretty much considered healthy. Despite my better judgment, I did bring up the subject of a colonoscopy and the doctor said not to worry until I was 40 but just to be safe, gave me a "crap card." Pardon my pun and French, no shit, that is what he called it. I am supposed to smear some of it onto the card three different days and drop it off for analysis and supposedly, that will catch anything long before there are any major problems.

Then the doctor told me of a anecdotal story of a guy who received the crap card and returned them as promised with the little sanitary flap folded in place. However, he said the flap was bulged well out of place as if it was covering a good-sized portion of… ahem… substance to be analyzed. The nurse asked the doctor if he wanted to open it and the doctor politely declined. Moral of the story is that you don't need much smeared on the card for analysis. I'm glad he told me the story so that I won't make the same mistake.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Minus 148: A Book Review

By Art Davidson

This book took a toll on me unlike any book I have read in recent memory. I started off warm and cozy in my life here in southern Iowa and finished shivering and barely clinging to life in a helicopter ride off the slopes of Denali. Few books can grip me as thoroughly as Art Davidson's account of the first winter ascent of Denali that almost took his life.

The idea, like so many, seemed to come from left field but soon Art Davidson was pursuing a team to climb the tallest mountain in North America and also the coldest mountain in the world. Though his idea came during a summer climb, he thought that it should be done during the coldest time of the year and unbelievably to me, he got seven other people to agree.

To this point of the story, I hadn't yet been gripped but that all stopped a few days into the expedition when Art vividly described wiping the blood and mucus off the face of one of the expeditions strongest climbers and trying to unsuccessfully revive him after a fall into a crevasse. Now with one of their members dead, the story becomes and emotional telling of the expedition which ultimately decided to continue the ascent. I think I became the eight member as some sort of cross world/time and space transplant. I'm not sure I was willing.

The journey continues on up the mountain with mostly good weather following them and the mood of the expedition slowly changes. With it, I really start getting into the story cheering them on as I read the book, forgetting about the little splurb in the book introduction about how Art had barely survived the trip. However when Art Davidson set up the splitting of the party and his group of four making the summit, I suddenly recalled that little splurb and read with dread as they began their decent down the mountain.

The camped at the notorious Denali pass in calm winds late at night with the plan of continuing down the next morning. They woke to 150 mph hour winds and temperatures less than minus fifty degrees which leads to the title of the book which refers to the windchill temperature in those conditions. Now fighting for their lives, they dig a hole in the ice and snow to wait it out but not before two of the three climbers including Art, frostbit their hands to the point of being useless. The other climber with frostbit hands also frostbit his feet.

For the next week, the would literally be pinned in their snow cave by these fierce winds trying to survive without water and less food than one member would normally consume in one day. Severely dehydrated and all on the brink of death, the climber with the frostbit hands and feat made the decision to brave the wind and cold to scramble to the far side of the pass to retrieve a cached fuel container that may or may not be there knowing full well that his chances of surviving were slim to none. He did survive and with drinking water in them, the wind began to die down for the first time in eight days.

Dave, the only one with the function of his hands, helps the other two climbers into their shoes and packs what little they have in their sleeping bags which they drape around their necks since their packs had been blown away in the wind. Roped together knowing that if one falls they all die, they set off down the icy pass towards the lower camps and are eventually rescued by a helicopter called in by the other members of their expedition. The life changing experience had come to an end but not the account of it in the book.

Davidson wrote about the fate of the members after the climb in an afterword section of the book. Pirate, the man with frostbit hands and feet that risked his life for the fuel can would go on to have a larger than life career leading mountain climbing expeditions before losing his life on Everest at the age of 50 when he bivouacked with an exhausted client too exhausted to descend. Dave, the man who had saved both Art and Pirate's lives, would live out his life as a park ranger though he would again attempt a winter ascent of Denali, this time solo and starting from his cabin on skis. He made it up part of the way before getting frostbit a little and not wanting to become another statistic, turned around and skied home. Art would also lose his zeal for climbing and would instead become a prominent conservation activist fighting to preserve large parts of Alaska.

Finished with this book, I felt exhausted and used up like I had been there myself. In fact, the very next day, I would fall ill for a couple days with some sort of bug followed a couple days later by a head cold. I'm not blaming the book but I do eye it suspiciously now on my shelf. I also decided to inoculate myself by choosing my next book set on a south pacific island.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Memories of New Years Past and Those to Come

Rapidly approaching midlife (at least I hope I'm not yet to the middle), my zeal for staying up late and seeing in the new year has been non-existent. In the last half dozen years, I can only think of once that I stayed up for the new year and that was due to a party that we had been invited too. Even then, we didn't even stay at the party until the new year arrived because everyone left to race home and turn on every light in their house as was their tradition. Most years however, we simply go to bed our normal time and bring in the new year with morning's light.

My first memories of celebrating the new year are as a child from an era long since dead. Our rural farming community used to gather at the local restaurant fifteen miles away for some food and fellowship. As the night wore on, the adults would retire to various tables for card games of all kinds, some including stakes. The kids would retire to other tables with various board games and in that way, with occasional trips for more snacks and pop, whittle away the hours until the new year was just down the street.

After a little deliberation about whose watch was fast or slow, a watch with the median of time among our group would be selected as the official watch and there would be a count down from ten to usher us into the new year. There would be no confetti, fireworks or joyous shouting other than one loud "Happy New Year" shout right afterwards. When that was over with, we all just kind of shook hands, picked up the cards and board games, and walked out into the cold and dark for the long drive back to our various farms.

This went on for a few years but the farm crisis of the 80's eventually put a halt to those festivities. More than half of those farmers that had attended the events lost their farms and moved on to cities and unemployment lines. Those that were lucky enough to remain behind couldn't go to the diner on New Year's Eve because it closed up and until just a few years ago, was vacant. I seem to remember a few small get togethers with just our close neighbors but when the distances went from less than a quarter of a mile to several miles due to departing farmers, even those gatherings ceased. As I grew up into a teenage, my parents allowed my brother and I to stay up and usher in the New Year as we saw fit and we may have done it once just because we could, but soon we began what was to be a tradition of just reading a good book and going to bed to allow the new year to show itself into our door.

When I graduated from college and spent my first new year away from home, there was a period of a few years when other young single adults like myself would pool together our money, rent a room at some fancy hotel in the capital city of that frozen tundra where I lived and see the new year arrive big city style. Other than dancing before and after and a lot more booze involved, it wasn't all that different from my youth. You still stood around counting down the time and then shouted "Happy New Year" before picking up your things and heading back to your room. There my friends would sit around drinking and talking until they passed out. Never one for getting sloppy drunk, I would join in the talking but would turn out the lights after the last one had passed out and then go to sleep myself. The next morning was always a killer as I would usually be up in the early morning, would have walked a dozen blocks or so to a nice restaurant for breakfast and a very leisurely reading of the newspaper, gone for a long walk on the way back, showered and sat reading a book by a crack of light through the curtains for a couple hours before my friends starting getting up and dosing themselves with lots of aspirin for their headaches. It was always a long quiet drive back to the town where we all lived far out on the tundra. Eventually we all moved on, either through marriage and kids, or through jobs in far away states and I suspect, many of them celebrate the new year much the way I do now, with sleep and perhaps some reflection on the year gone by.

It seems more of my reflections dwell on those who are no longer with us and what technology has now become indispensable. I suppose I dwell on those who have gone because they remind me how fragile and quickly life can be. People that I had heard my parents growing up with are replaced by those who I grew up with which all too soon will be replaced with those that are my age or perhaps even younger. With technology, I suppose I dwell on that because it changes faster than anything else around and provides us with a sense of just how fast time has gone by. A decade ago, cell phones were still expensive and required a separate bag to carry them, blogging, GPS devices for cars, fiber optic television/phone/Internet packages, twitter, facebook and a whole host of other things weren't even around. This past year I finally got my first cellphone, two more GPS devices and a HD television and a DVR that came with the all in one television/phone/Internet package. It blows my mind that I can now record two shows at once while watching a third or pause a live broadcast of a football game so I can go get seconds of the dip and chips only to come back and pick up exactly where I left off, perhaps even catching back up to the live broadcast since I can now fast forward through commercials. It leaves me wondering what thing I am going to be marveling at in the next decade that I hadn't even considered to be possible right now. My best prediction is that television sets and computers will become one and the same thing and be so integrated into our homes that we can set our dishwasher during halftime of the Superbowl with the television remote.

I'm not one for new year resolutions because I am pretty happy with my life as it is and really don't know what I would do to better it. But I will lay down a couple things that I hope will happen in the next decade or so of my life. First, I would like to become debt free in the next decade and pay off the little that remains on my home mortgage. After that, I would like to invest in some land, perhaps build a home by myself and most of all, continue to write about it all in some form or the other. I still keep journals and I hope that I still might be blogging but perhaps ten years from now, it is done by just thinking and having your thoughts automatically uploaded to some holographic computer host and you my reader, will just have the thoughts downloaded to your minds where ever you may be. Now that would be truly frightening.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year

Arie den Boer Arboreteum - Indian Magic Tree