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God’s Hotel (the Book)

Been reading Victoria Sweet’s book, God’s Hotel.  It’s about her stint (over) as a doctor at a God’s Hotel, a hotel Dieu, an almshouse, which originally meant a hospital for poor people.  It’s a tradition of caring for the sick that started in the Middle Ages and was mostly operated by monasteries.  Dr. Sweet worked at Laguna Honda Hospital in San Francisco, perhaps the last “almshouse” in the U.S.

Laguna Honda Hospital

Laguna Honda Hospital

Laguna Honda seemed to practice both modern and old-fashioned medicine — the doctors and nurses had machines for tests and surgery, but they also tended to look at the patients, talk to them, become part of their lives.  And Sweet develops along the way an appreciation for not only the medieval almshouse but for how medicine was practiced in the Middle Ages.  She ends up devoting herself to study (in addition to working as a doctor) getting a Ph.D. in history, specifically medieval history, focusing on Hildegarde of Bingen, who was both mystic and healer.

This M.D.\Ph.D thing (such highly, richly, and diversely educated people are a rarity), her decision to forgo riches and fame in practicing medicine elsewhere, and the way she writes about her patients makes me think that Victoria Sweet is perhaps the coolest person in the world.  I wish she were my doctor, though I’m in no way dissatisfied with my own doc.

Another Laguna Honda Hospital Picture

Another Laguna Honda Hospital Picture

Dr. Sweet explores the meaning of terms such as “hospital” and “charity” (from the root words for “hospitality” and “host” and for “caring,” respectively).  But what inspires me is how she writes about her patients with such love. Reading God’s Hotel gives me new hope that people are good.  As Uncle Monroe used to say, whenever I saw him and asked how he was doing, “Life is great.  People are wonderful.”

And maybe it is — despite the unending onslaught of addiction and illness, despite financial problems, despite loss (Sweet’s patients, not me).


A.A. Promises (the Realistic Version)

My friend J was sharing tonight at a meeting that her response to some of the A.A. Promises was, “Are you kidding me”?  Her specific example was the one that says, “Fear of economic insecurity will leave you.”  Well, she shared that currently she’s a little bit bordering on indigent, so the fear hasn’t and probably won’t leave her.

Maybe a more realistic promise would be, “Fear of economic insecurity will not longer stun me as if I just got shot with a Taser gun.”

And about the one that says, “You will intuitively handle situations that used to baffle you.”  Maybe it could more realistically be phrased: “If you’re extremely mindful, you just might be able to thread your way carefully through situations that used to baffle you.”

And then the final promise: “You will suddenly realize that God is doing for you what you could not do for yourself.” I’d like a reboot of that one that says: “You will realize that God sometimes, or even often, leaves you on your own to meet life’s challenges like an adult, but He always loves you dearly.”

Finally, the A.A. Promises end with a rhetorical question, “Are these extravagant promises”?  The answer in the Big Book, and the rote answer most people recite at meetings is, “We think not.”  I like the new answer to “Are these extravagant promises?”  That would be: “Not any more.  Now they’re fairly realistic.”

Glad we had this little talk.


Footloose, the (Somewhat Unnecessary) Sequel

So, at times I’m not immune to random channel-surfing, and even worse, watching the stuff  I surf up.  Which is why, this afternoon, I turned up the 2011 version of Footloose, which up ’til today I didn’t know existed.

Tuned in, with severe reservations, in that the Kevin Bacon\Lori Singer\John Lithgow Footloose is damn near perfect and has no apparent need of a sequel.  But I came around as I watched.

Number One: Today’s movie audience of teens and those in their twenties (Millenials) needs a version of Footloose that doesn’t star dinosaurs like Kevin Bacon (though I’d be gratified no end if today’s teens liked and admired the movie, or even more so were Kevin Bacon fans — maybe they’d seen The Following, in which he’s great.

The new Footloose stars Kenny Wormald and Julianne Hough.  Yes, we’ll pause while you say, wtf?  Well, Kenny and Julianne are up to the task — turns out he’s a professional dancer (which Bacon wasn’t), toured with Justin Timberlake, etc.  Hough has pretty good professional credits, too, and she’s hot enough and more to play the slutty minister’s-daughter Ariel.


Footlose, 2011

Footlose, 2011

Another thing I liked is that the filmmakers decided not to do a shot-for-shot transcription of the original, though they stay close to it.  Ren’s solo dance sequence in the warehouse is and is not like Bacon’s; there’s a country line-dancing scene in which both Ren and Ariel come off well.  And best of all, there’s a scene in which 8-year-old girls sing “Let’s Hear It For the Boy,” in which Ren teaches his friend Willard to dance, much like and also unlike the original scene with Bacon and Christopher Penn.

Turns out that if I give something a chance and evaluate it fairly, maybe I’ll have an enjoyable experience.  Who knew?  (Well, I knew ever since I read Carl Wilson’s amazing book Let’s Talk About Love: Why Other People Have Such Bad Taste.  Some people call it the Celine Dionne book, and the whole world loves it.  I blogged about it here on May 5, 2014.)


My Chat With Matthew McConaughey

No, not really, just thinking about Richard Linklater’s current movie Boyhood, his earlier movie Dazed and Confused, which featured McConaughey, and my imagined conversation with Matt about his recent Oscar and the huge u-turn in his career.

For years, McConaughey played the same guy, a surfer dude (even made a movie called Surfer, Dude), beach bum, or boat bum — he was charming and went shirtless a lot, and that was pretty much it.  Waste of a lot of talent, but no doubt it kept him in tacos, Cervezas, and BMW’s.

Matthew McConaughey

Matthew McConaughey

Then the turn-around, recently called a McConnaissance (which I’ve heard is his own coined word).  He starred in The Lincoln Lawyer, Killer Joe (directed by The Exorcist and The French Connection genius William Friedkin).  Then appeared in Mud, in which he played not a beach bum but a genuine hermit, on the run from the law and living on an island, discovered by curious kids, and which also starred the great Reese Witherspoon.  He’s the co-star of the current HBO series True Detective, with Woody Harrelson — two state cops, working on a 15-year-old serial murder and turning up other crimes as they go along.  (More on that below.)

The jewel in the crown of the McConnaissance is his Oscar-winning performance last year as real-life AIDS victim ____ in Dallas Buyers Club.

Technically, as I was telling Matt in the conversation I had with him in my head, you win the Oscar for a given performance — but you really win for a series of performances that are notable that your fellow actors shake their heads and say, “gotta give that guy and Oscar soon.”   And maybe they’ll just wait until you play a person with a disease or disability, which seems to be a mortal lock on an Oscar nod.

Take Al Pacino — certainly he deserved the Oscar for Best Actor in The Godfather, or Dog Day Afternoon, etc., but didn’t win until Scent of a Woman, in which he played a blind guy.  Or Dustin Hoffman — should have won for Tootsie (even Ben Kingsley, that year’s winner for Ghandhi, said so).  C’mon, Hoffman played two parts, one of which was a woman (and he’d also won the previous year for Kramer vs.Kramer). The he won again won for Rainman, playing an autistic guy.  Tom Cruise should have won — he played the hard part, he was in every scene, and his character has to actually change (I’ll ask Hoffman if he agrees when I have my chat with him).*** Read more »


MRI’s & Meatballs

This past Monday, August 11, I had my regularly-scheduled MRI.   I was anxious about it for weeks, since in August of 2012 my regularly-scheduled MRI showed a little spot that apparently hadn’t been on my brain before.  And the quick follow-up in November 2012 showed the same spot, same size — so Dr. Amdur said don’t worry, we’ll go back on the regular schedule, see you in a year and a half.

Which brings us to last Monday.  Executive summary, the spot is still there, still tiny (1 millimeter), the doc is still not worried, and he gave me an A+.

So that anxiety is over, an anxiety which many friends helped me with — the people in my recovery community, and other friends, were very supportive, and their support was helpful, helpful.


And on to Meatballs — no, not the Bill Murray movie of that name.  Last week I texted my daughter Rebecca, to the effect that my life is great except that I don’t get to see you very often.  She texted back, almost immediately, will you teach me how to make meatballs?

Of course I will — meatballs in the style of Rose Pieters, my mom and her grandmother, with a little tweaking of the process that I’ve added over the years since mom and I cooked together (which was one of our favorite things to do over the years — somehow or other, mom and I just connected in the kitchen, laughed a lot, got good food cooked).  I don’t often make my own meatballs from scratch, though, ’cause it’s a lotta trouble, so I wimp out and buy frozen meatballs or the ones the Publix butchers make.

But yesterday’s meatball seminar with Becca started out with ground chuck, ground turkey, Jimmy Dean sausage, Vigo breadcrumbs, chopped garlic, onions, spices, and a cornucopia of stuff we tossed in from the refrigerator and cabinets: ketchup, mustard, barbecue sauce, worcestershire sauce, and of course black pepper and oregano (lots of oregano).

Rebecca Pieters Performing at High Dive

Rebecca Pieters Performing at High Dive

Having mixed everything together, Becca and I dove in, got our hands dirty, made about 30 meatballs — some got cooked in a cast-iron pan on the stovetop (opportunity for a lesson in seasoning a cast-iron pan and a consideration of the question, why use a cast-iron pan at all).  The bulk of the meatballs got baked in the oven, turned once.  Both batches came out a little burnt, but Becca and I like them a bit burnt.  And, as a good carpenter hides his mistakes, I pointed out to her that if the meatballs simmered in a red sauce for a few hours, they’d look less burnt.

She brought her spiralizer, some zucchini, some yellow squash, so we had zoodles and squoodles, along with fettucine, with our meatballs.  And I’m having leftovers tonight– all in all, a very successful meatball seminar — hope I know how to cook something else that she’d like to learn to do.


Brain Day

Yesterday, August 8th, was Brain Day.  Well, just for me as far as I know (it’s not a national holiday) — every year I celebrate the anniversary of my brain tumor surgery on August 8th, 2002.  So yesterday was my 12th Brain Day.

As usual, I made brain jello — yes, I have a brain jello mold.  It came with instructions — peach or watermelon jello (this year was peach, didn’t see any watermelon); a can of condensed evaporated milk; a few drops of green food coloring.  The picture captures how brain-like and appalling the brain jello is — but once you get past that, it’s only jello, tastes fine.

Me with Brain Jello

Me with Brain Jello, With Peg & Lee

When I arrived at Bageland for my usual Friday morning Liberal Coffee Hour at around 9:00, I was pleased to see Peg and Rod Owen in place, and even more pleased to see a tablecloth that said, “Happy Brain Day.”  (Slightly modified from “Happy Birthday” with a magic marker.)

I unveiled the brain jello, and one by one or two by two the rest of the group arrived — Lee and Martha, Stewart and Elisabeth, Barbara and Scotty, Barb and Bruce, and my best friend, Sam.

A good time was had by all, I think.   Bageland barista (baristo?) Michael bought me breakfast, bless his heart,  half of the brain jello was consumed, we attracted the attention and then the participation of other customers.  Everyone expressed that they were glad I’d successfully navigated my August 8, 2002 brain surgery.

The rest of the day was wonderful — my friend G.W. called me around 11:00, and we talked for awhile; I met my friend John for lunch at Piesano’s pizza.  A very fine Free To Be meeting in the evening.

The only slight disturbance in The Force is that I have a head MRI scheduled for Monday — hope that I get the same result I’ve gotten on my 9 previous head MRI’s since the surgery, a film that’s clear of any recurrent brain tumor.  Oh well, nothing I can do about it.


Hobby Lobby Protest

My hometown of Gainesville, Fl got a Hobby Lobby the other day, and they had a grand opening, and the grand opening called forth a protest.

Protesters At Hobby Lobby

Protesters At Hobby Lobby

The protest, of course, was about the recent SCOTUS ruling that Hobby Lobby could opt out of providing some forms of birth control  (part of the health plan for HL employees) because of the corporation’s religious objection to abortion and abortafacients.

Yes, corporations are people now, and consequently they can have religious objections to this and that.  I get it, but it seems to me that pawing through a health care provider’s services and parsing out which ones might have some relation to abortion is a bit too picky-picky-picky, like parsing how many angels can dance on the head of an IUD (intrauterine device).

I think that calling an IUD an “abortafacient” (something that causes abortion) is technically correct — unlike barrier methods such as condoms (which of course keep sperm and egg apart) or birth control pills, an IUD does indeed prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg, which to some percentage of our population is the same as a person.  But having religious objections to the health care plan paying for an IUD is, to my mind, too picky-picky-picky.

Don’t want to argue that issue here and now, but one of the protesters was carrying what is now my favorite sign: “Life begins when you stand up to Christian fascists.”  Right on!

In the Middle Ages, the prevailing thought on when life begins was when “quickening” occurs — which then meant when the pregnant woman first felt the fetus kick or move.  Not very scientific, being subjective, but it was after all the Middle Ages.  Roe v Wade seems to say that life begins in the third trimester of pregnancy, which in that SCOTUS opinion is when the government might have an interest in disallowing abortion.  At least that’s my reading of Roe v Wade.


Scotty’s 95th

I have a regular Friday morning coffee hour with a group of friends — we’ve been doing it for around 10 years, and it was long ago designated as Liberal Coffee Hour.  We’re of the Democratic Party persuasion, a couple of people have positions with the local party, and at least one of us works with the League of Women Voters.

I’m 64 (years old, that is), and I’m one of the youngest group members, except for Barb and Bruce (the full group is a dozen or 15 people).  Our oldest member is Scotty, who celebrated his 95th birthday today.  He and his wife Barbara are pictured below, with the cake that Peg baked (delicious lemony icing!).  They’re wearing the hats that Barb (Barbara & Scotty’s daughter) supplied.

Generally we talk about politics — local, national, international.

Barbara Scott and Scotty

Barbara Scott and Scotty

We’re more likely to talk international politics if Steward and Elizabeth are there — both of them worked for the Foreign Service and have lived all over the world (Washington, D.C., Granada, Bhagdad).

Today’s conversation was more along the lines of birthdays, health, families, other people we knew who were in their 90’s.  I’ve never known anyone who was 95 years old before, and I elicited a promise from Scotty that he would live another 5 years, so we could celebrate his 100th birthday.

By the way, we’re celebrating at our usual meeting place, Bageland.  Today we apparently tickled a lot of customers who came in and saw the party, the cake, the hats.  Some strangers even came over and wished the guest of honor a happy birthday.

A little island of calm, fun, and love in a world that has had a chaotic, tragic week.


Crawling, Then Strolling Back

For the past week, I’ve been getting better, running-wise, at about 1.5% a day (an obviously arbitrary number).  Logged 17 miles running and walking for the week, 22 miles cycling, and I worked out at the gym twice.  Next week I’ll do 10%-15% more, if all goes well, and add some swimming.  I sure would like to have an endless swimming pool, as pictured below, but I’ll make do with either the regular outdoor pool at my condo complex or the indoor pool at the gym.

Endless Pool -- Not Me Swimming

Endless Pool — Not Me Swimming

A week ago today, I had quite a setback.  I’d been for a 20-minute walk, following my chiropractor’s suggestion that I not run, and felt ok.  When I got to my door, I casually reached down to untie my shoe, and got a spasm in my right hip the like of which I’ve never felt.  It was so painful I was crying, and I felt so disabled I thought I’d have to call an ambulance.  But managed to get inside and back upstairs, where (thankfully) there was a muscle relaxant and a pain pill and an opportunity to lie still — half hour later, I was ok-ish, but the pain lasted the rest of the day.

However,lucky me — a week later, today, just got back from a 27:30 run\walk session, in    which 20 minutes was running (slow running, maybe an 11 or 12-minute mile pace).And then, after showering and a bit of food and a little rest, rode my bike 5 miles to a meeting.  And an hour or so late rode the same distance homeward, to breakfast with 3 friends in the neighborhood.

Getting better — slowly but steadily.  Maybe Monday morning I can get in 4 miles.


All Stove Up

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted, and the reason is (wait for it, wait for it).

Well, I had a little accident involving a ladder on June 30th– didn’t fall off backward, just slipped coming down the steps and hit the ground hard, on my feet, after a fall of maybe 4-5 feet.  Now, you wouldn’t think that such a “fall” would even have noticeable effects, but in this case I must have jammed a few discs in my lower back.   Which expresses itself as pain radiating out through my right hip and into my right leg, which is quite numb below the knee.  Maybe it’s a pinched nerve, pinched between the lumbar discs–that would account for the weakness and numbness in the right leg.

Lumbar Spine Anatomy

Lumbar Spine Anatomy

Running has been nearly out (though end of last week I managed a mile or two on successive days, bracketed by walking.)  And today I went out for 31 minutes, mostly walking but also 12 minutes of running — very slowly, with numbness in my right leg, which feels as though it’s going to give out.  Well, maybe not exactly “give out,” but it is sort of numb.

And, sans running, I’m sans endorphins, which has strong and negative effects on my mental health.  So in about an hour I’ll try a short and relatively slow bicycle ride.

This situation, which has gone on since my initial tumble, makes me greatly sympathize with running friends who are unable to run because of injuries –some for many weeks and months.  Realistically and actually, I was only completely unable to run for 13 days, and since then been doing a little, mostly walking but some running.

If my running career is truly over (unlikely but possible), I can accept that — God give me the grace to accept the things I cannot change.  We’ll just have to see if I can substitute cycling, swimming, and working out at the gym.   Been to the gym a couple times since the injury, just doing things that don’t hurt, which pretty much means upper body, a few leg exercises with lighter weights than before.

LATE GOOD NEWS: A mere 2 days later, and I’ve managed 2-3 miles the past two mornings; mostly walking, but today was 28 minutes total, with 15 of those minutes running.  Hope for a bit more tomorrow — could even get to 20 miles for the week (Yay!!)


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