Thursday, July 31, 2008

Do a good thing ... you'll be happy.

If you saw Katie Couric on CBS Nightly News tonight, you may have seen this story about Sgt. Joe Barzeski and the CSC Scania Burn Clinic.

"Conditions are primitive. But even so, the burn unit is filled to capacity. It's tucked away on a U.S. base that's known as the biggest gas station in Iraq. It's where military convoys refuel. While on the far side, Iraqi families - as many as 80 a day - wait patiently to be admitted to a clinic that's more MASH unit than E.R. Barzeski had no medical training before he joined the Army - so he's been learning on the job."

The patients at the Scania Burn Clinic are Iraqi children, and the clinic is staffed by soldiers, mostly without prior medical training, who volunteer to spend any off-duty time they get debriding burns, bandaging little limbs and comforting these children and their families, all on a dwindling supply of medical supplies.

The volunteers at Scania are using an amazingly successful treatment for their burn patients to prevent debilitating scarring. It includes an old home remedy ... honey. Specifically, an irradiated and sterilized product called medi-honey.

" 'There was a boy who came in my son's age, and he couldn't turn his waist because he had these painful keloids on his hips, and that's when I decided I was going to try and do something,' Barzeski said. He treats the patients with what he calls Mayo, a blend of steroids, antibiotics and something called medi-honey - spread on the bodies of little patients to help them re-grow healthy skin.

All the drugs and bandages often run dangerously low. They have to be donated - as the clinic can't draw on Army stock. 'Its against the medical rules of engagement,' Barzeski said. 'Since we don't cause the injury, we can't treat them with our supplies.' Despite chronic shortages, the clinic has treated more than 1,000 children. "

And that's where we come in. I'm asking you to watch this video, take down the addresses at the end, and then ... you know ... donate.


Monday, July 21, 2008

No, It's NOT Fine.

I'm in the middle of doing that thing that everyone sort of knows they may have to do someday but most of us shove to the back corners of our brain where we keep things like the day our period started at school in 8th grade, or the day our friends came over and found mother sunbathing nude in the yard.

I'm at the beginning of the process of taking away a great deal of my mother's independence. If I tell you that this experience has allowed me to get in touch with pockets of guilt and resentment I never touched before, I'm probably understating. I've come to understand the phrase "Sandwich Generation" with a new clarity. My youngest child is a high school senior. She's visiting colleges, getting her prerequisites in order, checking into scholarship programs...

And just at that moment, when I can begin to imagine a world in which sex happens without fortress-like door locks and money doesn't flow like walks my mother.

My mother is 73. She's intelligent and articulate, well-read, passionate about animals and the ecology. She's always been a little out of the mainstream, but what the have I. Recently, though, her quirkiness has evolved into something a lot less cute and a lot more unsafe. As she's aged, the details of her life have become unmanageable. And the more the trappings of normalcy slip away, the more she's isolated herself, hoping that no one will notice how overwhelmed she is.

I've run through the usual litany of corrective actions: offers of help for her sake, offers of help for my sake, dire predictions about the danger of hurting herself, and my favorite of all...the Scenario of Doom. "Mom. You're going to fall and break something, and no one will know until you're dead and the dogs have eaten your face. And who's going to find that? Me. So your last official act in this world will be to ruin my life? Thanks."

My mother's response? "I'm fine. It's fine." The tree across the driveway? It's fine. It's good exercise for elderly people to crawl over or under it. It's like having a 10 ton Bowflex. The tree on the utility lines? It's fine too. It keeps the power bill down.


So this last week I have begun the project of hooking my mom up with a variety of Elderly Assistance organizations. I'm alternately relieved, defiant, and wracked with guilt. Who ever thought that I, a small "L" libertarian, would ever tell another sentient adult how to live? But now I have. I am. I'm on a mission to make my mother's life safe and manageable, whether she likes it or not. I plan to knock down the 4 foot high weeds in the yard, to cut up the downed trees that fell in last years storms (including the one that landed on the roof), and to do the repairs and maintenance to her house that homes need in order to make them habitable and comfortable.

She'll be mad at me for intervening. I'll be mad at me if I don't. It's funny, at 45, to realize that you still don't want to piss off your mother.

Like the lady at the Sunshine Senior Services asked, "Does your mother hold a grudge?"

I hope not.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Blowin' In The Wind

We had a little storm yesterday afternoon.

It moved in fast, whipped through the yard with 70mph winds blowing rain sideways in three directions at once and then sped on to the next town, leaving a path of demolished trees and strewn personal belongings in its wake. Our trash can lids are in the neighbor's yard across the street.

After the brief but impressive storm passed, I looked out the front door and noticed what appeared to be a large limb from the trees next to our driveway lying next to Katie's truck. "Whew!" I thought to myself, "That's a big branch! It's lucky that didn't hit her truck!"

It was even luckier than I thought.
It wasn't, in fact, a tree limb ... it was a thirty foot tree, wrapped in vines and poison ivy. It's just that all I could see of it from the house was the top of it. The rest of it was lying across our driveway. Somehow, it miraculously landed safely in the triangle formed by Katie's truck, the electric box and the Luckiest Little Sapling in Southern Illinois (which, as you can see, it missed by about two inches).

So this morning Ev and I got out the trusty chainsaw and made firewood out of it. It took us about an hour to cut it up, haul the top of it to the burn pile down the hill and the trunk parts to the wood pile for splitting. I still have a small mountain of branches and poison ivy to drag to the burn pile, but at least we can navigate the driveway again.

While we took a break to sit on stumps, wipe the sweat from our eyes, play with the hundreds of tiny katydids on the dead tree and pant in the 94% humidity, we could hear the sound of chainsaws coming from other yards all around us. Ev said, "God, I love Southern Illinois! Everywhere else people go to church on Sunday. Here it's all about cutting shit up!"
We're getting so good at this that we think there ought to be a competition for it. Maybe they should have Olympic events that are actually useful ... team stump removal, fallen tree swamping, burn pile immolation ... we could totally medal.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

To my son, the scofflaw

I'm indebted to Amanda Marcotte over at Pandagon for bringing this to my attention. Let this be a warning to the Fruit of my Looms:

Do not plan a trip to Flint, Michigan unless you plan to pull up your pants.

I Protest!

I really don't have much to say, but I'm tired of seeing The Crystals. Since that video has been sitting there for a week, however, it did inspire me to research the god-awful song, and I learned some interesting things about it. It was written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, and produced by (irony warning) Phil Spector. Originally, the song was written as a protest song against the abuse of women, and was inspired by the bad love life of singer Little Eva, who said her boyfriend only beat the crap out of her because he loved her. It never got much radio play in 1962. Apparently, the irony doesn't come across very well, and it sounds more like an anthem to abuse than a protest against it.

The obscure little gem has, however, been influential in the lives of other tragic singers. Courtney Love and Hole covered it. Amy Winehouse says the song "inspired" her and shaped her life. Have you seen Amy Winehouse lately? Gerry Goffin and Carole King should pay for her next trip to the ER.

So that's all I have to say about "He Hit Me (and it felt like a kiss)".

Ev tried to post another video yesterday, but it wouldn't post. Which was sad, because it was a nifty video of one of our favorite singer-songwriters, John Prine, talking about the tragedies of war and the young lives sacrificed to it, and singing a verse of "Sam Stone" to illustrate the point.

I like a nice protest song, don't you?

I was reading yesterday about a protest movement afoot for a "general strike" on September 11, 2008. The idea is that everyone in America should do exactly nothing on that day. Don't be a consumer. Don't drive. Don't show up to work for The Man. Don't turn on your lights or watch your TV. Just disappear from the grid for a day. It sounds good, in theory, but I don't think it will work in practice. It's like threatening to punish your kids by cancelling the family vacation to the beach. They know you aren't really going to do it, because it's your vacation, too, and you aren't going to punish yourself for their bad behavior. I'm not going to just not show up for work, or call off and say, "Hey, I'm not coming in today because I'm showing solidarity and engaging in a general strike against ... everything," because I'm a wage slave and I need my job.

I'd like to march and protest and picket and raise hell about something, but it's really hot and muggy out there, and I have hot flashes even with the air conditioning on. That's why I love a good protest song, and why, when "Your Flag Decal Won't Get You Into Heaven Anymore" comes on the CD player while I'm at a red light next to a redneck with flag stickers all over his truck, I turn it up really loud and sneer. Take that, motherfucker!!

Friday, July 04, 2008

The Crystals - He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss)

I...I...I don't know what to say. I just...I don't know...

A Forced March To Merriment

The other day we decided to clear a path to Richard's pond and then teach the ducks to use it. They're usually pretty good about stuff like that. Once one of them has figured it out she'll lead the others, and pretty soon they'll all be able to go there on their own. Not that they ever do anything on their own. Usually one of the females gets an idea in her head and quacks and honks and pesters the others until they all come out from under the porch and do what she wants. There's a metaphor in there somewhere.

So I took chainsaw in hand and cut out the scrubby little trees blocking the path to the pond. Then Lori cleaned it up with the loppers, enough so they wouldn't trip going through it. They trip over their feet a lot. One of those big old feet will get hung up on something and then Wham!...the duck will land on its chin. I assume they don't like that...I know I wouldn' we tried to make the path as duck-friendly as possible so they'd be more inclined to use it.

Once it was clear enough we started moving them towards it. First, with the help of Katie and Dane, we managed to get them walking in that direction. Almost always when we try to make them go in a certain direction, they act like we're herding them to a slaughterhouse. They quack furiously and run in 10 different directions looking wild-eyed and frantic. Then they regroup somewhere else in the yard and quack indignantly for a few minutes before they get back to hunting for worms and forget why they were so pissed off.

So we herded them towards the path: across the yard, around the woodpile, through the break in the trees. We were hoping that when they saw the water they'd go Yay! Water! But no. They acted like they were on the Bataan Death March. Any time one of them spotted a break in our circle around them, they'd run furiously towards it. Dane was definitely our weakest link. He must have thought that this was the kind of outing you see on National Geographic shows where the skinny boys in loin clothes casually guide a thousand ducks to the village market. No. This was full-contact duck herding.

We manged to get seven of them down to the pond and the other three followed behind, bitching furiously. We herded our seven right to the water's edge and then nudged them into the pond, where they clustered 6 inches from the shore in 2 inches of water, acting like they were standing in a vat of hydrochloric acid. Finally, after a lot of idiotic looking flapping and yelling on our part, they paddled out 2 feet and huddled together, eating weeds and eyeing us distrustfully.

Did I mention that during this process Lori and I both slipped and fell in the mud, then slid into the pond? We did.

Finally, with the ducks bobbing peacefully a foot from shore, we headed for home. They bobbed another 5 minutes or so, just to prove we ain't the boss of 'em, then followed. Since then they've wandered down the hill a couple of times, but I haven't seen them get in the water. Instead, they wander around Richard's field looking for worms, exactly the way they wander around our field, then they come home and jump into their kiddie pool in the yard.

Duckie bastards.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

A Duck Tale

We're Southern Illinoisans in many ways, but we fall way outside the norm when it comes to pets. For most Southern Illinoisans, pets are those animals that show up and hang out in your yard until they run off or get killed by something. People here don't expect to have the same pets for very long, and there are always replacements.

Our cats live in the house. Our dog lives in the house. Even our ducks live in a house. Most Southern Illinoisans wouldn't build a $1000 duck dome ... or even a secure night pen with an enclosed hutch and a fenced area covered in aviary netting. We have both.

We stand out like sore thumbs in the pet department, because we have real Southern Illinoisans for neighbors. You've heard about Al. Now, meet Richard:

This morning there was a knock on our door about 7:00am. It was an older man who introduced himself as the neighbor who lives behind us, on the other side of our tree line. He has a lovely property with a big grass pasture and a pond. He came up to tell me he was missing his ducks.

When we got our ducks I worried that they'd wander off and end up in his pond, and I suspected I might have to explain them to him at some point. I didn't anticipate that we would, in fact, become unwitting ducknappers.

As it turns out, his son gave him a pair of ducks for his pond the other day and they've been wandering up here when we're not home. He comes and retrieves them, but they keep coming back. This morning they were trying desperately to get into the duck enclosure with our ducks. He scooped them up and took them home and told me that our ducks were welcome to come swim on his pond.

A play date! A pond to swim in, instead of a tiny wading pool! Yay!

So I got dressed, let our ducks out, and tried to take them over to the pond. They followed me about halfway across our property and then ran back to their pool. I got behind them and herded them. They turned the corner onto his property and then ran along the tree line and charged back through the brush into our yard again. I gave up and went to work thinking maybe I'd try again this evening.

I obsessively count the ducks to make sure there are eight, alive and well. When I got home from work tonight I counted them ... one, two, three, four ... five ... six, seven, eight ... nine, ten???? Crap. Two extra. I tried to figure out which two were Richard's, since they're also Rouens. I think his are a little darker than ours, but hell ... ducks look very much alike! His are tamer ... or they were tamer this morning when he walked over and picked them up ... but they spent all day with our yard ducks and now they're not very damn tame anymore. I tried to get them to follow me to the pond and they ran back to the wading pool. I tried to herd the whole flock to the pond and they ran in three different directions.

I gave up and went to talk to Richard. I told him his ducks were at our house and he said he knew ... he'd chased them back twice today and finally gave up. I told him I'd put them in our enclosure tonight so they don't hurt themselves trying to get in, and he offered to pay for any feed they eat.
Tomorrow, while Ev and I are both off work, we'll try and herd them to the pond again. Maybe he can at least enjoy seeing them on his pond, since I don't think he's going to get them back. The living is pretty good up here at the Duck Dome and they appear to have settled in. We were short on females anyway.

As it turns out, these are not the first pets Richard has lost to us. He is, apparently, the source of all of our strays. Last year's duck belonged to him, too. I found that out while we were chatting tonight. He said he had a pair of mallards last year but one got killed and one wandered off. Oops. I said, "Um, yeah ... she wandered off to our yard. We fed her for awhile and then she got killed in the road."

Poor Richard looked stricken. Then he said, "I wish that road wasn't so close. My dog got hit on that road last year. She was a black lab ... a really good dog." Oops. "Was Sidney your dog??" I asked him. Sidney was the black lab who adopted us last year ... the one who used to sleep in my convertible if I left the top down ... the one who would sit in the bed of Ev's truck for hours waiting to go for a ride ... the one who is buried in our yard.

Now Richard has a little black lab puppy named Boots. She tried to follow me home.

If there's a Mrs. Richard I hope he doesn't let her wander up here.