Thursday, December 28, 2017

My First SPIFF Meeting

"Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer had a very shiny nose,"

My first SPIFF meeting was coming; I was nervous. The agenda, 'A fun Activity and Christmas Caroling around the School,' failed to appeal to me.

I had had a pretty good time with my second grade buddy during our one-on-one ( which substituted for my missing the first SPIFF organizational meeting ), and we certainly got along well enough when he was one of my advanced math students. But one-on-one, part of a larger group, doing a "fun activity"?

And Christmas caroling involved singing, right? I wasn't sure how I felt about singing in public. Even familiar Christmas carols. Even as part of a large group. Even if half the group consists of second graders. I'd be singing in public.

The Learning Buddies coordinator is also a SPIFF senior pal. She greeted me outside the classroom as we seniors waited for the teacher to prepare for us. She assured me I'd be fine, even after I told her about my beginning-level singing skill. Her optimism buoyed me.

The time came, and the teacher came to get the seniors. I found Eric, we went to his desk, and I sat down ( the senior SPIFFs got to sit ). There was a loud buzz in the room; everyone was talking … but the teacher was able to tell us about the fun activity.

First, some serious talk: the student was to write a finish to the following sentence: "I can spread peace in world by … "; there were several levels of answer and I recall talking about his behavior with his parents and sister.

 The student was also to make a snow globe. The materials for the snow globe were at our desk: letter-sized stiff ( i.e., construction-like ) paper with a circle drawn on it, and a rectangular piece of paper about eleven inches by four inches. Eric got his box of crayons from his desk and began quickly. Soon we had a snowman inside the circle, complete with hat, carrot nose, mittens and black buttons on his coat.The 
snowman was  standing on a mound of snow and snow was also falling. We cut the circle from the construction paper. We formed the rectangular piece of paper into a hoop, cut two slits in it on opposite sides from each other, and made a nice stand for our snow globe. We worked on a couple of Christmas-themed word search games. The words
 were long and it was hard, but we enjoyed helping each other find the words.
Our Snowglobe

The school's music teacher came in the room. She would direct our singing tour. First, she handed out songbooks … actually five sheets of paper stapled together, one set per student-senior pair. "The student is to hold the book, but hold it up to share with his or her senior PAL, OK? Everybody got that?" Everybody did.

We walked to one kindergarten class, the teacher introduced us and we sang.  " … Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer, had a very shiny nose, and if you ever saw it, you would even say it glows." The class applauded appreciatively.

We serenaded another kindergarten class, then went to the balcony; "We'll sing to the school," the director said. This is a second-floor walkway around the center of the school, surrounding the empty second-floor space above the first-floor library. From it one can see into many first-floor classrooms around the library perimeter. We sang one carol from there, then retreated to the classroom from where we had come. We played a bit more word search, the teacher thanked us seniors for participating and sent us home.

Once again I left the school amazed at and basking in the overflowing warmth that can come from giving oneself to second graders.
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Wednesday, December 27, 2017

... More Clean Cut Lately?

When I set about solving the problem of my hairy neck, I did my research.  I found tidbits here and there, but no one who seemed to have figured it out.  In the past 2 weeks, I've had 3 people complement me on my new "clean cut" look.  I decided to make the quick guide I would have loved to have found before I started.

Keep in mind, I'm talking about the neck only.  A man with a 5 o'clock shadow still looks clean cut if his neck is clean.  And I'm only talking to my brothers out there with neck shaving issues.  Some people can just run a razor blade over their neck, clean up a nick or 2, and go about their day with a flesh colored cleanly shaven neck.  Mine would have been bright red, irritated the entire day, and ingrown hairs the next.

1. Get laser hare removal.
You might be thinking, "duh."  But laser hare removal doesn't actually remove your hair.  It's not a magic bullet.  It removes some, so it's more sparse, and it makes the hairs thinner.  It also stops ingrown hairs.  At some point you could get it so thin and sparse people would call it hairless, but I'm not recommending spending $1,000 a year.

2. Don't shave so close
Of course you'll reduce the redness and ingrown hairs by not getting a close shave, but that defeats the clean neck goal, right?  Here's the thing.  You if your hairs are already thin and sparse, and you do a half ass job of saving what you have left, it's pretty clean.  I started using a Norelco One Blade.  It's supper easy, and precise, if not extremely close, but that's perfect.  But we're not done.

3. Conceal it
At this point your neck probably looks like you're half way to a 5 o'clock shadow, but one without the bumps and redness.  This is a huge improvement over the red bumpy neck you had to walk around all day with.  For a model perfect, clean shave neck, there's one more step.  Concealer.

Yeah, yeah.  That's for women, and whatnot.  There is a point there.  You want a clean neck because you want to look good.  If you look like a man wearing makeup, you're not going to look good in our society.  If you find the right one of you, and be subtle about your application, no one will know.

There are many different kinds, styles, and colors.  I'm no expert, and there are experts if you look.  There are many online resources.  The makeup counter at a department store is probably good too.  I read a few guides, watched a couple of videos, and just did some trial and error.

The perfect one for my neck is Maybelline - Fit Me! - Set+Smooth.
Maybelline - This is an expensive brand, and you can get it anywhere.
Fit Me! - This is the product line.  It comes with the right applicator, and a convenient packaging.
Set+Smooth - This is the style.  It's important to note that this works on my neck, but not every place on my body.  It's made for "normal to dry" skin.  My neck is a softer less greasy surface than my face for example.  The color I need on my neck isn't the color I would need on other parts of my skin.  My neck doesn't get a lot of sun, and yours probably doesn't either.

This is just my advice.  Take it however you like.  I guarantee more than a few men with clean lines on their neck are doing exactly this, a just not talking about it.  Like I said, I wish I knew all this when I started, so I thought I'd share.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Parking Lot Day Brightener

"You haven't changed a bit!"

One recent sunny Monday afternoon, my wife and I went grocery shopping, as is our custom, after I had finished my work at my parish. She had her list, I had mine, both of them on our trusty smartphones, and mostly containing the same items. ( We live in the same house, after all, and view the same grocery inventory. ) I dropped her off at the door and parked the car as far from the building as possible; I like the walk.

After we had corralled all we needed and almost finished checking out, I left her with the groceries, the cart, and the job of paying for them and went to get the car. We've ritualized this; I bring the car to the entrance, we load the trunk, and she doesn't need to walk to the car parked in the far reaches of the parking lot.

As I was walking down a parking lane, cars parked on both left and right, I noticed a car a couple ahead of me with the engine running and backup lights on. I slowed down, both to make sure I was not in the way of this vehicle and to clearly indicate to the driver that I wasn't going to walk into his path.

As the car backed up, the driver got to approximately even with me and the car stopped. The driver rolled her window down. The female driver said, "DecisionOne?" referring to a company whose local call-center was once across the street from where we were and is now a couple miles further south. That company is my former employer, and the one from which I retired.

A little unsure what was happening, I said, "Yes."

"You still there?" the driver asked.

"No; been gone for 6 years," I replied.

"Hmm; that's about how long I've been gone."

With that, she rolled up the window and began backing again, turning the car to go from where I had come. I continued walking to my car, and noticed her car stopped moving ( again ). The front passenger window rolled down; "I don't remember your name," she called.

I took a step or two closer; "Walter Jost." I vaguely remembered the driver's face. "And I don't remember your name, either."

She gave me her name. A light went on in my head; nice woman. "You haven't changed a bit; nice to see you," she said, as the window rolled up and the car slowly pulled away.

"You haven't changed much, either."

I kind of floated the rest of the way to my car, struck with the realization of how a chance encounter with an ex-colleague, a colleague with whom I was hardly close, a colleague from a long time ago, can make an otherwise ordinary day seem extraordinary.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Key Life Lesson

One day, back when I was a leasing agent, I had a move-in to do.  That means going over all the paperwork, and rules.  Making sure the new tenant has what they need.  I started my day by heading over to the apartment to make sure it was ready, and the key worked.  It did.  So imagine my surprise 10 minutes after finishing the move-in process, when the resident came back because the key didn't work.

Didn't I check that?

So I walked with her back to the apartment, put the key in, and turned it.  Worked perfectly the first time.  "I'm not sure what went wrong before, but it's working now," I tell her.  She, and her daughter who's helping with the move, surprise me by asking me to stay while they check it, as thought they didn't just watch me successfully unlock the door with it.  I stand there and... watch them each fail to unlock the door.


I unlock it for them again, and hand it back.  They ask me, "Can we get a key that works?"


I say, "Let me check with the property manager," and head back to the office scratching my head.  The next morning I stop by to explain my notes to him, and the trouble she had.  He says, "Of course,"  and starts filling out a work order for a new set of keys to be made.  I stop him and say, "Weren't you listening?  The key works fine."

He tells me, "The key works... for you.  You know how to turn a key.  You push it in a tiny bit, and pull it out a tiny bit, as you turn it; without even thinking about it.  You don't need a crisp new key.  She does."

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Laser Hair Removal - Review

I have "recovered" from my third, and possibly last, laser hair removal treatment.  I think I'm ready to give it a review.

The first thing you need to know, is that the second treatment doesn't do much.  This is what the operator told me, and she was right.  It thins the hairs you have, turns some off, but also turns on others.  I say this because I highly recommend one or three treatments for anyone who gets ingrown hairs from shaving.  It is amazing.

The treatment does cause some lesser ingrown hairs when it happens.  But after the recovery phases, I have not gotten a single ingrown hair since I started.  My third treatment was over a month ago, and I haven't had one in a full month.  I feel like they are behind me.

I paid $100 each treatment, and I am glad I had three.  I feel like I understand what to expect better having done so.  I would recommend people start with one, and move on to get the other two depending on their experiences.

I suspect I will need a maintenance treatment once in a while.  Maybe that means every year.  Maybe that means every few.  The fact is, I'm a man, and I have testosterone.  My neck hairs will do their best to bounce back.  This has been a small price to pay, and I'm happy to keep with it.  I highly recommend.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Becoming a Senior Pal

"This is something I need to pay attention to."

I got a voice mail from a person whose name I did not recognize; she left a friendly message so I returned her call.

"Hello … ?" she answered, a little hesitantly.

"Hi, I'm Walter Jost, returning your recent call."

"HI," a relaxed voice said. "I was calling about the SPIFF program … that's an acronym for Senior Pals in Fun and Friendship. It's a program at ( the school at which I'm volunteering ) school. Do you have a child or grandchild there?"

"Gosh," I said. "No, no I have neither."

"I wonder how I got your name," she replied.

"Well, I am a volunteer there, working once a week with second graders. Perhaps … ?" I offered.

She explained that SPIFF joins an older adult with a student, for the year, in fun and friendship, which includes monthly all-group meetings, during the week, during the school day, for a fun event. I had just barely started with my math students and hesitated to go further. Still, the idea had appeal.

"Thank you for calling," I heard myself say, "but I don't think that's something I am interested in at this time."

"You're very welcome, thanks for hearing me out."

Several weeks passed; I was enjoying my math students.

"Hi Walter," the email began, "Can you be a SPIFF pal this year?"

It was from my Learning Buddies teacher. He suggested I could partner with one of the boys with whom I was already working, or one of his other students. He also sent an explanation of what SPIFF is.

"This is something I need to pay attention to." I did not need my wife's input this time.

By then I was more interested than when I got the first call, but I was unable to make the initial meeting. I responded that I could not make the first meeting but I was open to participating. What's next, then?

There was no 'next.' He wrote, "The first get-together is pretty important so maybe this year it won't work out."

"One meeting is that important? Are you kidding me?" I replied only that I was disappointed, and my disappointment told me I was not only open, but wanting, to be a senior pal. No response.

The teacher greeted me jauntily when I showed up for my next shift. "So, Walter, thanks for coming this morning. You'll be a SPIFF pal for Eric?" I was simultaneously taken aback and instantly glad to know that I could still be a SPIFF partner … with one of the boys I was already working with to boot. "Can you stay for a while after your work is done with the boys? You and Eric can do some of what you would have done at the first meeting."

"Yes, I can do that," I replied … enthusiastically, I hope.

We spent close to an hour together after our class. He showed me his 'welcome mat,' which told me about him, which he had not finished. He gave me an IYQ ( I Like You ) teddy bear, and then decorated it, we traced each other's hand on a single piece of paper and decorated them, and he asked me 10 pre-determined questions, interview style, so he'd learn some things about me. "Where did you grow up?" "What guidance would you give me about life?"

"Have a nice Thanksgiving," I said to everyone as I left the area. My heart was full and I looked forward to adventures as a senior friend to a second grader.

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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Our Replacements II

A couple of weeks ago, I talked about our soon to be automated lives.  This is about the ramifications.

I am a Libertarian.  I have two big reasons for that.

1. I believe Capitalism is the best way we currently have to fairly divide up our resources based on who contributed to creating those resources.  That drives people to create resources.

2. I think it is wrong to take what someone has earned, and give it to someone who didn't earn it.

3. I think governments is bad at everything it does.  It is unfortunately in the best or only position to do some of the things we need doing.

Libertarianism makes sense in a world with scarcity.  But how about a world without scarcity?  One where we have automated 90 plus percent of what we want done.  We can't reward people with the resources they need in exchange for their contributions to society if it's hard to find a way to contribute to society.  And why hold back resources at all if they're nigh unlimited?

The big problem I see to start is despair.  Suicide is often a success problem.  People afflicted often don't feel needed.  A job often gives someone a place in society.  People without a place in society often don't feel needed.  Even rats in a society without a place in that society will act in self destructive ways.  We will need to find a way to reorganize our society.  We can find a way, but there will be causalities.

The next issue I see is protecting us from each other.  With limitless resources comes limitless power.  We need to make sure people don't take advantage of that in negative ways.  Like making antimatter to blow each other up, for example.

And my last big concern is the singularity.  This is what people call the moment that machines can make a machine smarter than itself, and does so.  The difference between a person making a thinking machine, and a machine making a thinking machine, is like the difference between getting cut on a saw, and getting cut on a chain saw.  It's gonna be fast.  We might not recognize a person 1,000 times smarter than the smartest human, and it my have very different goals and priorities.  This is a subject of many thousands of words.  I'll just say this could be the best thing that ever happened to us, or the absolute worst.

Humans are doers.  We have done amazing things, and continue to surprise ourselves.  I do think we can solve these problems, but they are problems that need to be solved.  I'm not sure who first said 100% unemployment should be the goal.  I do agree though.  I believe in a bright future.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Another Time for Thanks

It's that time of year again ... time for thanks. I share some specific things that occurred since last Thanksgiving for which I am aware of being grateful. 
  1. My sister-in-law visited and stayed with us and we had a wonderful time.
  2. Ellie found significant help for her arthritic pain from a place here in the Twin Cities that specializes in treating arthritis. Read more here.
  3. I am able to make a different in the lives of other volunteers working in the Pathways ministry at my parish and they are able to tell me they appreciate it. Mentioned here.
  4. Benjamin's and my friend who has brain cancer has seen his cancer stop growing and he has felt quite good all year. We have continued our monthly dinner get-togethers, frequently supplementing them with a walk around a lake or a round of 'mini-golf' at a nearby park.
  5. Amazon ( good ol' Amazon ) customer service resolved a mix-up in a 2016 Christmas order and delivered the correct item in time. Written about here.
  6. Ellie and I had the internal fortitude to decide against an upgrade to our internet service with a company that we did not feel good about, because we did not feel good about it. More here.
  7. There is a political organization that is non-partisan and at work in Washington. I am aware of it and a member.  I had intended to volunteer for it, but that has not yet happened. Read more here.
  8. The Republican plan to repeal The Affordable Care Act failed, and I wrote to Senator John McCain, who complained about the process yet voted to let it continue. Here. When the vote( s ) counted, he voted against repeal and I sent thanks to him and the two female senators who stood with him. I wrote about that here.
  9. I discovered both that I have a heart problem ( here ) and that I really like "my cardiologist" ( story is here ).
  10. I also discovered that my heart problem is a fairly minor problem, which, in my view, if one is going to have a heart problem, is a nice kind to have.
  11. A friend of mine pushed me to pursue being a DARTS volunteer ... a reader of stories, once a week, to a small group of grade school children. With a small push from my wife, I agreed and this has turned into much more. Becoming a Reading Buddy. It's not reading but Math.I have a wonderful first day experience.
  12. During a segment of an online retreat I attended, I relived, and wrote a poem about, a significant moment of love for my wife. Read it here.
  13. As a fallout from being a DARTS volunteer ( 11 above ), the teacher with whom I am working recruited me to be a SPIFF ( Senior Pals in Fun and Friendship ) senior person. I agreed and  am paired up with one of the boys with whom I am working on math. My heart bursts with joy.
  14. Ellie and I have finished the learning how to live together again that we began when she moved back home at the end of 2015. We are not the same as we were before she left, but our love is deeper and both of us know and understand that.
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Monday, November 20, 2017

Christmas Timing

There I was; Christmas Day.  Christmas with my family had gone well, and I was on my way to friends to give two little girls presents.  Crepe paper ribbon seemed like a great idea.  Who knew it would rain on Christmas day?  I had thrown on a small garbage bag, that covered the top 90%.  Two buses later, as I reached their home, the bottom 10% was nearly mush.  But I could always rewrap it, if need be.  Little did I know there wouldn't be time.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas the eldest daughter told me twice that she was getting a pogo stick.  I finally asked the mom, "Are you really going to give a five year old a pogo stick?"  She told me she wished she had, but her presents were already purchased.  Cha-ching!  Christmas is easy.

So, a little research, and it looked like Fisher Price makes the perfect pogo stick for a five year old.  It even has a wide base that can be removed as she learns.  It was sold out locally, which is always a good sign of a popular toy.  Fortunately, I was able to pick one up off Ebay with a very reasonable markup.  And while I was at it, I found a pretend pogo stick perfect for her three-year-old sister.  It's even shaped like a unicorn, which is what she had just picked out as a Halloween costume.

I arrive at their place drenched to see a holiday spread.  It turns out uncle Adam and his new wife are in town, and will be here any minute.  I'm welcomed to stay.  I do a quick assessment, and the present is very moist at the bottom, but covered.  I figure a five year old might not even notice.  I figure right.  They both loved them.  I only had a moment to bask in the hugs before uncle Adam arrived.  It had been less than five minutes total, and I was out like a Santa in the night.

Good timing?  You don't know the half of it.  The next day I find out uncle Adam and his new wife got the little one a toy pogo stick, same model sans the unicorn theme.  And they got the older one a pogo stick perfect for ten to fifteen year old, which she is not.

Do your research people.  And run those gift ideas by mom and dad.  Black Friday is upon us again.  I'm ready.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

This Baby's Bottom is not about a Baby

"Must be the newness."

 I'm a pen freak …  I'm addicted to fountain pens. Because of this addiction, I was the proud recipient of a new fountain pen for my birthday. This is a workday pen, affordable, the same model as one I already own. I had also gifted this model to a friend ( attempting to ensnare him in the addiction ). I was very pleased …

… until I wrote with it.

Some pen aficionados advise swishing a new pen with water before filling it with ink, to make sure any potential contaminants left over from the manufacturing process are removed. Others, not so much. I have done both, but usually come down on the side of 'not so much,' usually because I am eager to write with the new pen and don't want to take the time to wait for the swished water to completely dry before inking and writing.

Of course, I would not put a pen with any moisture into a bottle of ink to fill the pen; that risks ink contamination. My perfectionism compels me to believe that. So … I just filled my birthday pen without swishing, and it didn't write particularly well the first time. It was a bit hard to start and it skipped a little bit. It didn't feel quite right … the nib on paper provided neither the smooth gliding action nor the clean line that are the reasons for using a fountain pen.

"Must be the newness." I figured the entire thing was new, and it needed a little time to get used to my hand, the angle at which I write, all that sort of stuff. So I continued to write with it ( real stuff like notes to myself, my journal, notes of important telephone calls, and just horsing around with the pen ) and it improved. But it was still not right. Five quick downstrokes, for example, would yield four nice lines and one with a skip in its middle. My signature has a long arc above the name from about the second letter to the second last letter of my last name; this inevitably had a noticeable skip in it.

What did I do? Duh! I cleaned the pen, running water through it a hundred times ( not really, it only seemed like that many ), sucking water with the converter and pushing it out, in and out. Then I ran water just out, with a rubber syringe, intended for ear-washing, pushing into the nib assembly from the back where the converter normally goes. Then a few more cycles with the converter. The water ran clear; I was sure I now had a clean pen. Writing would be proof.

It wrote much better, but still not quite right. And my signature's long arc still failed to be perfect. Darn! I tried one other trick I have learned about nib maintenance; the results failed to change.

The pen's nib is replaceable by its user ( me ) and I have another pen just like this one. I thought I should try swapping nibs to see what happens. "Yeah, I should do that," I thought several times. As a natural procrastinator, I easily put this off.

I finally found an appropriate time to do the experiment; I swapped nibs and the problem followed the new nib to my original pen. The older pen with the new nib had a flawed writing performance … while the new pen, with an older nib, wrote perfectly. Alleluia!

I am a pen addict, I happened to have a spare nib of this type, replaced the underperforming nib on the older pen and all's good in my pen world.

Upon close inspection of the new nib, it appears to possibly have a problem known in the trade as a "baby's bottom" and, someday, I may try a fix for that condition. There is no rush, though, I'm happy.

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Monday, November 13, 2017

Turned Down for... Princess

While browsing the toy section of Walmart, like a normal person, I ran into a collection of all the Disney princesses.  All eleven.

Now my astute audience has obviously noticed that eleven is not the number of princesses that Disney has.  Princess Leia, for example.  Well, not all princesses that are Disney qualify as Disney Princesses.  You have to be human, for example.  So Nala from the Lion King is out.  You also have to be animated.  That excluded Princess Leia, and many others.  Princess Giselle is up for debate on this point, but what I'm really interested in here are the ones who were definitely snubbed.

The eleven pictured are:
Snow White, Tiana, Ariel, Aurora, Jasmine, Belle, Cinderella, Pocahontas, Rapunzel, Mulan, and Merida.

Of those, the one that got in without qualifying is Mulan.  She wasn't born royal, and didn't marry royalty.  Disney just says she earned it.  I can't really argue with that.  But who does qualify, but didn't make it in?

Moana, for one.  She is clearly the daughter of her people's leader.  They might just be dragging their feet on that one.  Or purposely holding off to avoid calling attention to the next two.

Elsa and Anna!  Two glaring omissions.  Both were clearly born royal, and very popular.  How could they be missed?  Rumor is they are so popular that Disney doesn't want to hurt sales of their merchandise by lumping them in with the reset.  I imagine a box with those two dolls would be worth as much as the box pictured with all the other combined.

The others I am aware of are:
Princess Kida from Atlantis
Jane from Tarzan
Megara from Hercules
Vanellope from Wreck It Ralph
As far as I can tell, these all qualify to be Disney Princesses.  They have been willfully excluded.  I assume because they were not popular.  Not that the princess were not popular characters on those movies.  The problem is that the movies they were in were not popular.

And, "yes", it is a big deal.  They have a coronation ceremony and everything. : - P
Let me know in a comment if I forgot anyone.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

First Day with Advanced Second Grade Math Students

"Yes, my grandma lives close to 110."

The teacher brought four boys to the hall. "Hi, Walter. These are your students … I'll let them introduce themselves."

"I'm Walker."

"Did you say, 'Walter?'," I asked, incredulous.

"No; Walker." I must have looked at him quizzically, as he spelled it.
"W … a … l … k … e … r."

"Oh, I get it," I said. "Your name is that of the Gospel writer!" I said to Luke. "I have a good friend with your name, Eric."

Isaac was the fourth; I didn't have anything to relate to his name, but it was unusual and I knew I would not forget it. The teacher returned to his class, leaving me with four bundles of nervous energy to deal with all alone.

"You all have an assignment in your math workbook that the teacher gave you, right?" I asked.


We were outside the classroom, in an inside corner of a library, next to stacks of books. "We have four tables," I said, pointing, "let's each of you go to one of them and work on your assignment. If you need help, ask. I'll check your work and when everyone is done we can get on with the other work. OK?"

They quickly dispersed to their tables; apparently it was OK. A peaceful moment followed.

Soon one had a question; his hand went up and he looked over to me. I hurried to his seat. One of the problems involved the number 421. They had to know where the hundreds place was, the tens and the units. "I am almost certain I didn't know these kinds of things when I was in second grade!" When I answered his question he gave a look that said, "Oh, of course … I knew that!"

He finished first, I checked his work which was all good. By the time I was finished, two others had finished as well; they waited patiently ( or not ) for me to come check. A quick scan, minor error corrections, and three of the four boys were done. I checked with the fourth; he was nearly done, finished in front of me and gave me the work to check. The math was all good, we fixed a couple of minor spelling errors and we were ready for the advanced work.

We gathered around one of the tables, I pulled out my Continental Math League ( CML ) material, pulled out the other four packages of the same material, and handed them out. "These will be yours," I said. "Put your name on the front." The clock on the wall read 9:00 or so; I had them until 9:15. "Not much time left," I thought.

"I want you to know I am excited to be here with you, to do this work with you. I am enjoying being here. I also want you to know I was scared to death as I drove to the school this morning. Afraid I'd screw up, do something wrong." While they seemed amazed I might have been nervous, it seemed important for them to know.

"Let's look at the first problem," I said. There were two additions: thirty-two plus twenty-seven and forty-one plus twelve. The question: how much must we add to the smaller answer to make it equal to the larger answer? All the boys were adding the two sets of numbers together before I could pose the question. That was forgivable … the two sets of numbers begged to be added. We soon had the answer. Six.

Second problem: Betty was driving her car and noting the miles on the odometer. Attempting to relate this to their lives, I said, "So, that might be like driving down the road from the school here to Highway 110, right?"

"Yes, my grandma lives close to 110," Luke said.

"So, she lives down at Dodd road and 110?"

"Yes, she does."

"This problem is like driving from the school to Luke's grandma's and then almost back, right?"

"We need the boys back in class … ," the teacher, breaking my reverie.

"Oh, OK, sure, of course." Then, turning to the boys, "Give me your books, get your workbooks. You need to return to the classroom."

The teacher was kind, but firm. "You're working under the clock," he said, pointing. "They can tell time." I learned it's my task to get them back to class promptly. "Thanks for coming in … we'll see you next … oh, no, we won't see you next week."

"MEA week?" I figured out loud.

"Yes, Thursday and Friday; school is out Wednesday for teachers' meetings. We'll see you in two weeks."

Already feeling emotional attachment, I waved goodbye, saying, "I enjoyed being here and working with you. I'll see you in a couple weeks." I virtually floated down the hall, so glad was I to have decided to give this a try.

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Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Awaiting Our Replacement

Driving a car is not something a baby born today will ever need to do.  This should be obvious to anyone.  That's a large portion of our labor market.  But what many people seem to miss is that it isn't just cars.  If a computer can move a car, it can move anything with the right peripheral.  A pallet in a warehouse, for example.  Or a plate of food in a diner.  That's a lot more jobs.

Could my job as a computer repair technician be done by a computer?  Haven't they replaced many of us already?  There was a time when we also repaired computer hardware.  Now faulty hardware is simply replaced, because automation made it so inexpensive it isn't worth the time to repair.

What got me thinking about this is Google's AlphaGo program.  The old version was smart enough to beat any human, even Go Masters.  The new version is much better.  And the big improvement is that it's entirely self taught.  It got there by playing many thousands of times the number of games as a Go Master could in a lifetime.

Imagine a program like AlphaGo, but its job is to make human students able to pass a test.  It will eventually say things like, "Playing this video clip explaining the Pythagorean Theorem has .073% better comprehension than this video clip."  I watch educational videos on Youtube all the time.  Many are just vector graphics and a soothing voice.  How long before this kind of program can create them itself, and tweak them until test scores go up?

You might tell yourself that if this trends persist, we'll all be artists someday.  Are you sure computers won't be able to create art?  "This color shift to painting A4524 is .054% more aesthetically pleasing..."  Or how about, "A 12% percent increase in tempo to song B4585 increases the conveyance of the emotion: 'sadness' to 43.2% more listeners ."

I don't think I'll see that in my lifetime, although I'm very hopeful about the self driving cars.  I don't think it's many generations off, however.  And who knows, we might dramatically extend lifetimes before mine ends.  I think this future should be a good one.  A very good one.  I'll talk about what might go wrong in a later post.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

My First Learning Buddy Assignment

"If 1 chicken can lay 3 eggs in 4 days, how many eggs can 3 chickens lay in 8 days?"

The week after my training I received a forwarded email. "Do you know a retired engineer or someone who enjoys math?", "4 very nice boys in my new class who are high-achievers in math" and "I could use a volunteer who would be interested or available to work with them on fun, challenging, multiple-step Continental Math League problems." My friend just sent it along. It was an email the coordinator had sent to established volunteers.

"Of course I sent it," my friend said. "I just wanted to make sure you saw it. You'd be perfect."

There was his eternal optimism again, his compliments.

"I didn't get it, but I think I'll call and put my hat in the ring for this. It sounds good. You don't mind if I tell her you are the source of my knowledge of it?"

"No, of course not. In fact, I'd like you to tell her that."

"I haven't been taught second grade math for a long time. Teaching of math has changed. I wonder if I could actually do that." Many stories of parents who couldn't make heads or tails of their child's math books came flooding back to me. I intended to address these doubts with the coordinator. All of them, however, vanished in the excitement of possibility when we spoke the next day, "I heard a rumor you have a need for a retired engineer who likes and is good at math. That sounds like it was written for me."

Within ten minutes, she and I had spoken, she checked with the teacher who had the need, she returned to me, and I was scheduled to start the next week, 8:15 AM, Wednesday. She'd be there to introduce me to the teacher and show me around the school.

Then the doubts returned ... the horror of parents with their children's math books. I communicated with the coordinator. Long story short, she arranged for me to meet the teacher the day before I was to start, to see and get a sense of the material I'd be dealing with.

He showed me two sheets of math problems stapled together; "This looks to be about 2 months of work," he said. It's possible my face flushed. "Maybe you'd like this booklet," he picked it out of the activities box containing the material for me and my students, "it's got the answers in the back. The students' copies of this booklet are in here, too; they also have the answers."

"They won't race to the back for answers?" I likely stammered it out.

"Oh, no, they get it that they don't learn anything that way."

He continued, "So … they will come out to you here in the hall. They will have work that the math class has assigned to the whole class. You'll have to make sure of that before you work the Math League problems."

"I make sure it's done … or … ( my second thoughts were flooding back then ) I make sure it's done correctly?" I asked.

"It has to be done correctly," he said. "I'm sure it will be and that should not be a problem for you."


"Great, see you tomorrow, 8:15. Thanks for coming in."

I reviewed the material at home … Continental Math League material. Some seemed pretty simple: how much larger than ( 3+4+8+6+4 ) is
( 2+9+8+5+7 )? Others seemed significantly harder: If 1 chicken can lay 3 eggs in 4 days, how many eggs can 3 chickens lay in 8 days? "Second graders can do this?"

None of this seemed unfamiliar to me, nothing like the fantasies I was having when nearing panic about this assignment. Confident I could handle the math, and even teach some if required, I went to sleep more easily. But I still wondered how I'd handle four second-graders all by myself for forty-five minutes.

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Monday, October 30, 2017

Learning the Ways of the Hoop

My weight loss plans slow to a crawl, but that's really okay.  I feel like a guy at the end of the pack, walking to the finish line of a marathon.  I never wanted to be first, I just wanted to get there.  It's taking weeks for a single pound to fall off, but these pounds are coming with subtle changes to my figure.  And that has me thinking about where I want to end up.

I'm not weak or feeble, but I think part of me is.  I'm just not very flexible or coordinated.  I can't touch my toes, for example.  I never could.  Something like yoga seems like the best solution, but that's not super convenient for my life at the moment.  I looked around, and came upon the hula hoop.

Hula hooping is exactly the kind of thing I fail at.  I don't have the coordination, and I don't have the stomach muscles to hula it.  It seems a lot like my 100 push ups, in the sense that I can do it in my living room, without any  investment, and should have real results with just a minute a day.  I spent the $3.

Well, I hate my $3 hula hoop.  It has beads inside to make a noise.  It also had a warning sticker marked, "Do not remove."  I removed it, because I did not intend to break it open and choke on the beads.  Turned out that was a load bearing sticker.  The hoop is now held together with staples.

I should replace it with one that is not a toy.  It looks like a non toy version will be called a dance hoop, or a fitness hula hoop.  I should also stop making excuses.  I tried it, and it's hard.  My first few attempts are only adding a single rotation to my initial spin.  Day 2 wasn't any better.  I don't like to keep failing, but Yoda is full of it.  "Try" is real, and it's exactly what I plant to keep doing.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Digital Trouble

"There was a problem sending the command to the program."

I am a user of Microsoft's spreadsheet program, Excel. In my work as the "IT Guy" for one of my parish's ministries, I maintain several Excel files. I save them in the older XLS format, because other volunteers need access to the files and they may not all have the latest version of Excel. Because I do this, Excel always tells me, when I click "Save File," that the format is an older one, blah blah yadda blah. "I know, just go ahead and save it," I tell Excel. This is slightly annoying, but only slightly and I'm willing to live with it while I'm doing the IT job.

In the same way, I save a personal file that I originally saved in the older format and, of course, go through the same dance with Excel every time I save it. Recently I decided I didn't want to do that dance with this file, saved it in the latest format, and …

… and chaos ensued. When I double clicked on the file to open it, before giving me the worksheet, Excel opened an error window, "There was a problem sending the command to the program."

"Hmmm," I thought. I clicked OK ( the only option in the error window ) and the file was completely fine. "I wonder why changing the file format caused that to happen. Shouldn't be." I tried another file; same problem. I tried another … several others … all of them gave me the same error.

The error suggests a communication error between the program and something else. If I started Excel and opened the file from inside, files opened without error. This further suggests some communication problem: clicking on the file in the file system requires Windows to command Excel to find and open the file, and generates the error. Doing it inside Excel doesn't require this, and there is no error.

As far as I could tell, this was a cosmetic error … I stress that. The files worked and behaved exactly as they should. But I was not happy about even a cosmetic error; I am a techie.

I looked for help online. Finding material about this problem was very easy. Finding a definitive solution was not so easy. Lots of suggestions, though.

I tried an easy suggestion; no affect. Because this suggestion involved configuring, I thought maybe I needed to reboot the computer. I tried
that … and the problem was gone. ( "Computer reboot; why didn't I just think of that in the first place. That solves so many issues," I ranted internally. ) I tried opening multiple files; no errors.

I was working happily away … I opened another Excel file and the problem returned! Holy Hannah!

I returned to the online user forums … and found two divergent, possibly relevant, entries. First, one responder is complaining about opening Excel worksheets in multiple windows simultaneously, and he talks in terms of multiple instances of Excel. Second, several people, responding to a suggested Windows Registry change, had written, "Yes that fixed my problem."

The posting about multiple instances got me to wondering if I had multiple instances of Excel. I checked. Nope, just one. I shut it down
( killed it ) and restarted Excel in the way that was giving me that error message. No error message this time. I opened several more files; none of them generated the error message. Simply killing and restarting Excel fixed the problem.

I am willing to let well enough alone, ignoring the posts about the registry. Excel is behaving appropriately and all is well in my technical world.
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Tuesday, October 17, 2017


As I sit down to play Prey for a third time, it occurs to me that I should review the game.  I give it an "A".  I'll keep this is relatively spoiler free.

Prey is so many things.  For starters it's sci-fi, but it borders on survival horror for the first 25% of the game.  I say 25% because that's when someone should have a handle on what sort of danger to expect, and have a plan to handle most of it.  That's when the story gets good.  It centers on an alien threat.  The aliens are interesting, and well designed on many levels.  But that's not what drives the story.

The game introduces devices called Neuromods that it uses as a story vehicle in several ways.  These devices let you install new skills and abilities in your brain.  It's a very interesting way of leveling up your character through a skill tree.  It makes sense that you would make med kits go further with more medical knowledge.

But they also remove any memories you have formed since having installed them, if you remove them.  This allows the game makers to put you in the head of your character.  You are learning what's happening at the same time as your character because of this memory loss.

Neuromods also act as something to lose.  Most of these types of games try to include tough moral decisions.  This game actually succeeds.  The potential for all of humanity to instantly share the knowledge and abilities of the best and the brightest is something worth fighting for, and dying for.  It would dramatically improve the lives of so many.

The game had some flaws.  It also had it's share of glitches.  The bugs will be worked out in a patch, I'm sure.  The few design flaws are forgivable.  There are two things that would have bumped it up to an "A+" for me.

The first is the survivors.  You have a chance to save some people, but once you do, they pretty much disappear.  You can't track them on the map, which you should based on the in game mechanics.  I would like to have them make their way to safety off screen.  They could let you overhear them talking to other survivors.  The people organizing them could say, "Good work.  Looks like so-in-so made it to us, thanks to you."

The other is the very end, after credits scene.  I won't spoil it for you, but it builds on an interesting concept that was teased at earlier very briefly.  I think they should have introduced that idea in the game, and made it part of the story.  That, of not at all.

I can't stress enough that this is a great game, and highly recommend it.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Becoming a Reading Buddy

"That's Milwaukee," I interrupted, "I grew up there."

I called the Reading Buddy coordinator on Monday a few weeks back. It was 5:30 before I got around to that and I didn't figure she'd be in. She wasn't. 

I recorded what I determined to be a stupid voice mail, erased it, recorded another equally stupid voice mail, erased it, and repeated this several more times. I finally figured out what was 'stupid' about the messages and how to fix it, but the Voice Mail system ended the call. I figured it believed the caller had no redeeming social value and hung up in disgust, leaving no messages. This was fine with me … no time-line to make another call.

Then, to my complete surprise, "Hi, Walter, nice to actually talk to you. How are you?" greeted me when I phoned again and introduced myself several days later.

"You responded like we're old friends," I said, after telling her I was fine, thanks for asking, "but I don't think you know me from Adam."

"Well, you left a Voice Mail on my phone several days ago. No call back number, just your name. I hoped you'd call again."

I felt a slight chill. I believed all my messages had been stupid, run on, of no use to the listener save to betray to her my uneasiness and inability to utter a coherent paragraph.

"Well, … " I managed.

Believing honesty is the best policy, I continued, "I recorded several stupid messages, thought I deleted each one in turn, and the system ended the call, hanging up in what I can only assume was complete disgust. I'm embarrassed whichever one remained on the system."

 "No worries," she said, using the current vernacular. "How can I help you?"

We talked about reading buddies, my friend ( who lives and volunteers in a county different from mine ) and discovered we have something in common: we're both residents of the same part of the city, about twelve miles removed from my reading buddy's home and the facility in which she works. Without being specific we found we live close to one another.

After more chatty material, she said, "I'll send you information on the program, the volunteer application, and we can go from there. How's that? How would you like to receive it … email, USPS, fax."

Unthinkingly I said, "USPS."

"OK," she said.

"Now I have to be specific and tell you where I live, don't I?" I said. She laughed again, appropriately and appreciatively. "I'm going to like this woman," I thought.

"I like to meet with potential volunteers," she went on. "We could meet near your house on my way to work next week, after you've had a chance to review what I'll send you."

"That works for me," I said. "I'm pretty open."

"You know the ( name not provided ) café?" she asked.

 "On ( intersection not provided )?"

"That's the one; you know where it is?"

Feeling a bit devilish, I said, "No idea." Again, she laughed appreciatively. "Yes, I do," I continued. "Of course. How about 10:00?"

After laughing, she said, "That's perfect."

"More vernacular."

"Let me give you my cell number, just in case. It's 414 … "

"More commonality!" "That's Milwaukee," I interrupted, "I grew up there."

"You did … I spent several years there, met my husband, though he's from here, there. Nice city."

We chatted a little about the city of my birth and marveled at the coincidences that bind us. I hung up looking very forward to meeting at the café the next week.

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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

How to T-Shirt

When I was young, I wore what I was told to.  That was almost exclusively t-shirts.  As I got older, I realized there is a variety of shirts, and the t-shirt was the most casual of all.  I began to notice people wearing t-shirts as outerwear that were clearly meant to be underwear, and all t-shirts became underwear to me.  Dress shirts looked professional, and hid some unwanted curves.

As the years went by, I came to realize that wearing a button-down, usually dress shirt, was not projecting the image I was going for.  People would comment on how my clothing choice was unnecessary, as though I had gone to some lengths to button a shirt.  Or how uncomfortable I must be, as though a shirt that buttons is less comfortable than a shirt that doesn't.

I can't say I get it, but I don't need to.  I'm certainly not going to chose clothes that I need to convince people they like.  I'm trying to wear clothes that people think look good on me.  I moved on to hoodies, and the infamous t-shirt.  I watched some youtube videos on men's style, and picked up some interesting, and good advice.

First of all, t-shirts as outerwear have a shorter lifespan than other shirts.  They're more prone to looking faded, torn, and even just start getting clear or discolored in the armpit area over time.  They need to be replaced more often, but they're fairly inexpensive, so that's not a problem.

As a general rule, v-necks are more likely to be made to be worn as outerwear than crew necks.  You also have to consider the weight of the fabric, the color, and it's transparency, of course.

Another big one for me was size.  The seem at the shoulder should line up with your shoulder joint.  This one isn't true of any t-shirt I own.  They truly don't make t-shirts that would have fit me at shoulder blade, and at my belly.  But that was in the before time.

My chest is 44 inches, but that's mostly muscle.  My belly is not gone, but certainly endangered.  I've worn XL shirts as far back as I can remember, occasionally moving up to 2XL, depending on the brand.  Now I see larges, and even mediums, fit  my shoulders, and that's all that matters in a t-shirt when I have so little to hide.  I'm even finding the cheap yet fashionable asian cut clothing online will fit me.  Suddenly the world is my oyster.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

I Mourn for Vegas

I weep for the lives ended
    for those changed forever
and for their mothers and fathers
    friends and lovers.

They were out enjoying each other
    listening to music and laughter
languages of the soul, both, when
    their world was violently assaulted

I weep, too, for the shooter
    of an age to know better
but he didn't and his pain
    has become ours

Why didn't he kill himself first?
    I ask this, too
Did he require the deaths of so many   
    to feel guilt enough for that?   

Why didn't he kill himself first?
    and save us our pain
was suicide an after-thought
    the guilt of so much harm?

How often … I ask … and why
    does a single person's pain
become so great as to cause
    a whole nation to weep?

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Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Hey, Siri Knows what I'm Talking About

It turns out cheap phones are cheap.  Last time I needed a new cell phone I decided I wanted a big screen, and a stylus, everything else should be standard.  The LG Stylo II seemed fit that bill, and at a very low price.  LG is a good name.  What can go wrong?

I'm not very demanding on a phone, and it's usually the connection that's the bottle neck.  This is the first time I've been frustrated with the loading speed on a cell phone.

I don't take fancy photos.  A snapshot of a memory here and there is fine.  These aren't going up in an art houses.  This phone couldn't even handle that.  It was actually a huge disappointment when I was in Costa Rica.

Less than a year in, and I started having trouble with the headphone jack.  At this point, I have to admit I'm harder on my headphone jacks than most, so I just switched to Bluetooth.  Then I started getting weird cracking over Bluetooth once in a while.  Rebooting was a temporary fix.

Then, just when I was planning for my phone to have an "accident" the stylus broke.  Now, mind you, this is just a regular stylus.  There is no circuitry built in.  There is no reason this couldn't have been made out of something rigid.

I'm back to Apple with a 6S Plus, just in time to take advantage of the announcement of the 8.  And I'm loving it.

The pictures are so amazing I've been actually capturing more than just a memory.

The interface and apps have been so fast I've been keeping up with a meditation app, and my calendar, and such.

And instead of annoying me by daring to think I might want voice interaction, I actually do want to talk to it sometimes.  Siri hears me, and does what I tell her to.  "Hey Siri.  Schedule lunch with friends at noon on Sunday," will actually result in that event being added to my calendar.  I ask her about the weather.  I ask her to start a timer.  She will even play the music I ask for.  It has been amazing.

Friday, September 29, 2017

The Calendar is not Working

 "Your access to this calendar is being processed. Please check back later."

Several years ago, one of the ministries at my parish was losing its WebEx online tool, needed an alternative, advertised for someone to help, and I responded. Without, frankly, a great deal of thought I suggested a Yahoo group and that a small team from the ministry become charter members to evaluate the Yahoo Group for sufficiency. They approved my suggestion, and I soon was the group administrator.

The ministry's needs were minimal, the evaluation was positive, and we decided to switch to Yahoo at year-end. This ministry had collected lots of digital "stuff" and moving forced a keep-or-toss decision about all of it. Eventually we moved all the files that needed to be moved, and some that only maybe needed that. I posted the Excel schedule to the group's Files page and put all the events on the group's Calendar. We were ready on Yahoo.

As time moved along, performance in the real world replicated that in our test: I posted and removed files as I was supposed to, created and modified events on the Calendar, and the Calendar notified all members of an event a week ahead of time. Everything was wonderful …

… unless it wasn't. Occasionally I was unable to post files. Several times the calendar function worked only spottily … I would add an event to it, save it, and come back later and it would be gone. I would be completely unable to save new events. I would be unable to access the calendar at all. Each time the functionality soon 'fixed itself,' but I worried more each time it happened.

With the first failure, I attempted to reach Yahoo and found the soft under-belly of the enterprise: there was no help desk. Eventually … after struggle with the links on the Yahoo troubleshooting pages … I usually got to a page which said, in effect, "Well, then, talk to those in the forum." Although they sometimes responded to queries in those forums, Yahoo staff was unavailable to connect with to ask about anything.  Pretty much everybody in the forum had the same question: "Is this ever going to really get fixed?" Nobody supplied anything resembling an answer.

All of this had come to seem like ancient history … until recently. I went to add an entry to the Calendar, and I got an error message, "Your access to this calendar is being processed. Please check back later."

I waited for several days before panicking; the reason for panic included continuing to get that error message, getting that same message with several different browsers, other members of the group's getting that error, and much talk about this problem on the Yahoo forums. 

One of the member's comments was especially telling as it pieced together several experiences I had had but not reflected on. The comment linked periodic outages, the inability to talk to anyone at Yahoo and continual neglect to the probability that new owner Verizon would take months to get it all straightened out, if they even chose to address the issue at all. Yikes! I decided I likely backed the wrong horse when suggesting Yahoo; Google groups would likely have been better.

Although full functionality has again, mysteriously, returned to our group, our ministry will abandon Yahoo, see what else is out there and possibly use internal tools the parish has now that it didn't have when the question first arose.

Yahoo: this is no way to run an enterprise.

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Monday, September 25, 2017

Turned Down for What?

Flight attendant. : - P

This is not at all surprising.  Delta hires less than 1% of the people who apply.  I certainly don't blame them for not picking me.  I don't even blame them for turning me down in a form letter without ever actually talking to me.  They just don't have the resources when you have so many applicants.  This does make things difficult for me though.

Difficult because I don't have great direction about where to go from here.  None of the positive changes I made even came up, because I didn't get that far.  I can only wonder if I could have improved my resume, or answered the questions on their personality assessment better.

I created my resume with a lot of help from someone who does recruiting for a Fortune 500 company.  It does highlight my technical experience.  She has agreed to rework it with me to highlight customer service experience.  The other thing I can do is add to it.

Adding experience as a flight attendant is one thing can do.  I might have to get some experience at a smaller airline for that.  A different job at Delta might be helpful too, but it wouldn't make sense to abandon my career in tech support for a job I don't want.  I am keeping my eye out for tech support jobs at airlines.

The other things I can do are to become certified in safety related abilities like CPR, or learn Spanish.  I have real problems with blood, but I think I'll try.  Both are doable, and as before, they'd be positive changes even if I never end up becoming a flight attendant.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Two ... or One?

I am currently taking an online retreat about Sacred Spaces and Sacred Moments. ( Yes, I, who has relatively recently been on a five-day self-directed silent retreat and on four three-day silent preached Jesuit retreats, am taking advantage of technology. ) The retreat is given, in the form of brief audio clips and short textual readings, by the Benedictine Monasteries of the Heart monastery. My time. My computer. My office. Silent or not, as I wish. You get the idea.

The retreat is in its second of four weeks. As I reflected on today's material, I was moved to write a poem with a brief introduction. I share them below:

Among the most overwhelming sacred moments I've had have occurred when my wife ( the love of my life ) and I were together and something magical happened. Like this.

Just sitting together
My love and I

Talking quietly
Or maybe not

She leaves her body
Or I mine

The space between
Is nearly visible

I know her differently
We are not 1 but 2

Physically ... yes ... 2
Otherwise only 1

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Monday, September 11, 2017

This is Not "Me"

Someone I know once casually reminded everyone to make sure they recycle the paper she was handing us when we were done.  I casually let her know that, although I'm always careful to recycle plastic, glass, and aluminum, I believe recycling paper is actually bad for the environment.

Now I've heard her talk about recycling quite a few times.  She must really care about the environment.  Right?  I expected her to be grateful for a chance to learn more about being a good steward of the earth.  Or maybe she would disagree, and provide her reasoning as to why she believed recycling paper was good for the environment.  What I got was silent anger, then a quick subject change.

I was confused.  I didn't know what to say.  That's when another acquaintance of us both spoke up.  "Really?  How can that be?" he asked.  I was so revealed.  He had gifted me this chance to explain my reasoning, and she would realized that this mysterious anger was misplaced.

I briefly explained about the extra fossil fuels and chemicals spent on collecting and processing used paper as compared to fresh wood pulp.  I also explained how wood pulp comes from tree farms, and used paper is biodegradable.  I looked over at her and saw... more silent anger, somehow burning even hotter than before.  Then another quick subject change.

This was about 10 years ago.  Since then I've leaned that I'm the weird one.  Almost every person I know takes ideas, and inserts them into their image of "me."  This woman didn't care about the earth.  She chose to include recycling in her self image, and was offended when I insulted her.  Others chose political or sociological ideas.  Then there is, of course, religion.

You are not your country.  You are not your political party, feminism, recycling, or your religion.  And I shouldn't have to be a jerk for questing an idea, any idea.  People should be respected, not ideas.  All ideas should be criticized.  The more you love your idea, the more you should welcome its criticism.  Be proud when your ideas stand up to scrutiny, and grateful to find out if it doesn't.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Me, a Reading Buddy?

"I'm cooler than that."

I have a friend whom I've known for only a few years … but he has influenced my life. For instance, he is the "other friend" to whom
I referred previously
who invited me to go on a 3-day silent retreat. I've done it annually since then.

When we visit, he consistently refers to one of his volunteer duties, of which he has several, as his "Reading Buddy" assignment. He reads, weekly, to a group of young students at a school near his home. "It is so great to be able to be a positive influence on their young lives," he says. "A lot of them come from homes without a father, from a home within which they get no male bonding, no male support; OK, no male love. To be a positive influence like that is life-giving — in both directions."

Of course, he says other things, periodically, never more than one or two at a time, as well. "You should try it." "You'd be a great reading buddy." "The kids would really look up to you." "You have such a teaching and caring way about you." "The kids would love your sense of humor." "Here, let me give you the name of the Reading Buddy coordinator … just in case you change your mind."

Believing I would not change my mind, but also believing that anything is possible, I added her information to my contact list. I added a note, "Reading buddy coordinator," too, for times I see her name and wonder, "Who is that?"

A while back, school was starting shortly and my friend had mentioned his Reading Buddy avocation to me and how wonderful it would be were I to try it. I'd again done my best to be clear without being rude that I don't think Reading Buddies is for me.

"You know, he's really after me to be a Reading Buddy," I said to my wife around that time.

She knows my friend almost not at all but I try to keep her up to date on the topics we discuss … so my relationship is not a complete mystery. "He's been a Reading Buddy for quite a while, hasn't he?" she acknowledged.

"Yes," I said, "he has. I'm not sure how long but it's been quite a while."

"What do you tell him when he suggests this to you?"

"I am clear," I said, "that I don't think it's for me. I never turn him down cold … I don't want to be rude and there is a small attraction there for me. I really don't want to acknowledge that attraction but I don't want to slam the door shut, either."

"Hmmm," she mused.

"I hate it when she 'Hmmm's like that." Deciding to risk it, I asked, "What's 'Hmmm' about?"

"Well, tell me. Tell me about the attraction that you don't want to acknowledge."

"Well, I like teaching. You know that … I'm a born 'let me show you how to do that' kind of guy. I think kids kind of look up to me, and I could both like doing it and be good at it. But … but it doesn't fit my self-image," I said, as a truth slowly made itself known. I heard myself add, "It's like I'm cooler than that."

"Ah, yes, your self-image." She repeated, "Cooler." The word was both loaded with affection and chillingly effective.

"Uh oh."

"I think you'd like to do that," she said easily; "it could well be very good for you."

If you've been paying attention, you know both that my wife is scary smart and that I've learned to pay attention to these sorts of pronouncements. Almost immediately I knew I'd be calling that coordinator; it was only a matter of time to come to grips with it.

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Monday, September 4, 2017

Grooming 102

 ** The following is a graphic depiction of laser hair removal **

Laser hair removal happened.  I know it did because it was burned into my memory, and boy did it burn.  Apparently it isn't unheard of, but is fairly unusual, to laugh hysterically when in pain.  When it was done I expected to see a bloody mess, but it was just a little red.

The procedure was $100.  I think I was there about 20 minutes.  She told me it is significantly more painful than having a tattoo removed, which is significantly more painful than getting a tattoo.  She also told me it will never be as painful as the first time.

The next day I had a sunburn on my neck.  Then almost a week of little white pimples, and very dry skin.  An ingrown hair will eventually trigger the "foreign body" response, as though there was something foreign under your skin.  That's pretty much what happened to about half of my neck hairs, even though they weren't trapped.  And many more were trapped, becoming ingrown hairs.  I've never had so many at once.  It was so frustrating having so many problem hairs, and not being able to pull them.

As I write this 13 days in, my neck finally looks as bad as normal.  It's red here and there, but nothing major.  And the hairs did finally start falling out.  You can see some patches where only my white hairs remain.  Those without pigment will not be affected by this.

This has been my experience, but I can't really say if it will be effective.  This is a long term solution, and will take months to be sure I'll have long term results.  I'll definitely check back in 6 months.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Meeting "my Cardiologist"

"Wow, I really like this guy."

"My cardiologist." I have not warmed up to that phrase though I like the man whom it depicts quite a lot. Ellie and I went to see him several weeks after my family doctor had suggested it because of some blood work and an echocardiogram showing some slight heart irregularities. Dr Sam
( name changed ) was both very pleasant and young enough to be my son.

While waiting for the appointment, I vacillated between wondering what awful news he was going to pull from the data and feeling confident all was well … sure my case was interesting, possibly worthy of further study, but the further study would be no more than returning in six months to a year to be tested again.

I also wondered how I'd handle a stress test, which my doctor said may be necessary. Would I be able to pass one or would I have a heart attack trying? ( Walking is something I was used to doing, albeit neither swiftly nor uphill. ) Though I did not have nightmares about this topic I did find myself thinking about it a lot, especially as I went to sleep.

After introductions all around … "Well," he said, "let's talk about your heart."

"Fair enough; I'm pretty sure that's why I'm here."

The long and short of it was that my case is unusual ( and if I ever don't want to be unusual it's when I'm in a doctor's office ). My EKG was only "pretty" normal; there was a hint that I had a heart attack some time ago. The echocardiogram suggested the same thing - but only when viewing from a specific angle. From all other angles, all was fine. The radiologist had concluded I did have the long-ago heart attack but my cardiologist
( there's that phrase again ) wasn't so sure given that it seemed to indicate that from only one viewing angle.

"My gut," he said, "tells me it's a false positive. … But I've been wrong before, and what I'd like to do is give you a low dose of linsinopril, which will strengthen your heart, and in four to six weeks give you a nuclear stress test. This will help us be sure."

"Heart medication? Me? Who are we kidding? No!" I thought. "I really don't want to take heart medication," I said.

"OK," he replied, "no medication and we'll do the stress test next week. How's that?"

"Wow, I really like this guy," coursed through my being. "OK, you're on; let's do that."

He explained the test, wanting me to understand it completely, and sent his nurse in to schedule it.

The test consisted of an injection of a nuclear trace material to get a good picture of the blood in my heart, resting while that had time to fully flow, taking the picture, the stress test itself, another injection, rest and two more pictures. The actual stress test consisted of walking on an inclined tread mill, then the tread mill was sped up and inclined some more, until my heart rate reached eight-five percent of its safe maximum, monitoring my blood pressure and heart rate all the time.

I felt I did well; no chest pain, breathing differently only enough to know I was working, and feeling some stress in my knees and legs. The test administrator thanked me and said I did well. All that was left, then, was to hear the results.

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